What's Going on With the TSA?

A Brief Timeline of the Organization's Current Mess

TSA checkpoints have never been a traveler’s friend—in fact, we’ve written plenty of stories about how to survive the lines and get to the gate on time (see here, here, and here). But the issue boiled over this spring, with lines stretching for seeming miles at the country’s busiest airports; senators calling for airlines to offer free bags for the summer (never gonna happen); and, most dramatically, the organization replacing its head of security Kelly Hoggan on May 24. So how’d we get here? Let us present a brief timeline: 

  • 01 of 12

    2013-2016: the TSA Cuts 10% of Screeners

    Photo courtesy of Brett Ryden

    In anticipation of PreCheck’s expansion, the TSA culls about 5300 screeners nationwide over three years. This happens as traveler volume rises approximately 15 percent in the same time period. 


  • 02 of 12

    June 2015: the TSA Fails Undercover Test

    Airport security finds a knife in carry on
    leezsnow/Getty Images

    An undercover team takes 70 banned items—including weapons— through TSA checkpoints, and a whopping 95 percent of them fail detection. Acting administrator ​Melvin Carraway is reassigned. ​

  • 03 of 12
    Scott Olson/Getty Images

    After massively failing its security exam, the new TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger vows he will retrain all security personnel to properly screen passengers, rather than rushing flyers through the long lines. Security personnel say that priorities shift regularly in the organization, with original directions to focus on security and later directions to speed crowds through the checkpoints.

  • 04 of 12

    January 2016: Airfares Plummet

    Planes taking off and landing on a runway
    Brian Stablyk/Getty Images

    With the oil crash comes a major decrease in jet fuel prices. Ticket prices drop as much as 15 percent, with popular routes on JetBlue and Southwest showing even cheaper declines. Good news for travelers—some 740 million of them are expected to fly this summer—bad news for understaffed TSA stations around the country. 

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12
    TSA agents screen passengers at LAX
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images

    The TSA asks Congress to reallocate funds to pay its employees overtime in an effort to relieve long lines. 

  • 06 of 12
    Photo by Benét J. Wilson

    The Airlines for American federation starts its #iHatetheWait campaign, encouraging travelers to post photos of their long lines at security and tag the TSA. 

  • 07 of 12
    A plane lands at Newark Airport
    Thomas Kurmeier / Contributor / Getty Images

    The Port Authority sends a scathing letter to the TSA for its long wait times, threating to bring in private security screeners to relieve the congestion at NYC’s three major airports

  • 08 of 12
    Luggage carousel at the airport
    Image Source/Photodisc/Getty Images

    US Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), lobby airlines to lift baggage check fees in the summer, in the hopes of relieving congestion caused by overstuffed carry-ons. The trick? The TSA also screens check bags, so this wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem. 

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12
    Airport security lines at Midway Airport in Chicago
    Sean H/Youtube

    A passenger’s video of a seemingly never-ending security line at Chicago’s Midway Airport goes viral. It takes him a full two minutes to walk to the end of the line, which circles the airport. 

  • 10 of 12
    New York City's LaGuardia Airport

    Adding insult to injury, the TSA blames passengers for the long lines, citing passengers who overstuff their carry-ons and bring full-sized toiletries. The finger-pointing is a response to the Port Authority’s attack on its performance.

  • 11 of 12
    TSA Crowds at Los Angeles International Airport
    Bob Riha Jr / Contributor / Getty Images

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says they will hire more than 500 new security screeners as soon as possible. Extra hands will only help, however, at airports that aren’t yet operating at full capacity. 

  • 12 of 12

    May 24, 2016: TSA Fires Head of Security

    TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson at a press conference regarding summer travel issues.

    Neffenger announces a number of leadership changes at the TSA, including firing Kelly Hoggan, the organization’s head of security. The ousting follows not only complaints of long lines but also accusations that he received some $90,000 in unjustified bonuses between 2013 and 2014.