Officials at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport are recommending travelers arrive two and a half hours before their scheduled departures to avoid long waits at security checkpoints.
The airport is configured with multiple, smaller checkpoints that make it hard for the Transportation Security Administration to staff, especially during a period of staffing cuts, said airport spokesman Patrick Hogan.
Adding to the challenge is the way flyers want to travel: early in the morning and immediately after normal working hours. Airlines schedule flights for those periods to meet demand, and there's a crush.
"We're seeing a more condensed version of that scheduling now, where there are two or three thousand people that are trying to fly out within an hour's period in the morning, and then again in the evening as people are returning home or flying out after work," he said.
"The airlines may need to look at changing their schedules somewhat so that they don't have so many people arriving at the same time," Hogan added. "The TSA may need to look at their staffing levels and see if they can increase them somehow. And we may need to look at our checkpoint configuration to see if we can expand them further: have fewer checkpoints, but much wider checkpoints that can be operated more efficiently."
When it's possible, traveling at off-peak hours, or on an airline that leaves from Terminal 2, the Humphrey Terminal, can help ease delays for flyers leaving the Twin Cities.
Travelers might also get through security checks faster if they register for the TSA's precheck program
It allows travelers deemed to be low risks to get through airport security checks more quickly. These folks also don't have to remove belts, shoes or light jackets. But there's an $85 registration fee and participants must provide a set of fingerprints.
The program only recently debuted at the Twin Cities airport. But Hogan says it looks promising.
"I don't have any numbers on it," he said. "My sense is that it is certainly helping. But the ability for anyone to enroll in the program in Minnesota --without being a frequent traveler on a participating airline or a member of Global Entry -- is still pretty new. So, we haven't yet reached the critical mass of enrolled travelers to make the kind of difference we believe the program will offer in the future."
The TSA website provides estimated wait times for security checks at airports around the country.
But the agency warns the wait times are reported by travelers using a smartphone app. They are not verified by the TSA, and the agency says that users rely on the information at their own risk.
The reliability of the reports depends entirely on the accuracy and timeliness of traveler posts. TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers says any traveler can share a wait time.
"This information is crowd sourced," she said. "All an individual needs to do is download the free (My TSA) app from iTunes or Google Play. Once you're on the app, you can click on the Post Wait Time button on the home page, select your checkpoint, and pick the time frame that represents your wait from the time you entered the line until you got your documents checked at the Travel Document Checker."