Airport Screening by TSA

Those who have been traveling in the US this spring probably know that lines to get screened for flights have gotten longer and slower.   TSA is the US government group responsible for providing airport screening.  Last year they began experimenting with Pre-Check, a system that would allow selected flyers to go through faster.  In essence, if you are a frequent flyer you can apply for a Pre-Check certification and if you get it, you go through a separate line and don't have to go through as many hassles.  You don't have to take your shoes off, for example.  Based on preliminary estimates, TSA laid off some 10% of its screening personnel this year.  TSA assumed that lots of flyers would sign up for Pre-Check and that that would speed everything up and that they wouldn't need as many screeners.

It's now clear that not nearly as many people signed up for Pre-Check as TSA estimated.  Is this a failure to advertise and promote?  I don't know.  What I do know is that they laid people off before they achieved the Pre-Check signup.  Now they are simply stuck with less people to process more or less the same crowds that they had before.

Obviously this is a process problem.  Drawing diagrams of the flow wouldn't tell you much, however.  It's obvious that TSA planned a two track system, with Pro-Checks flowing faster through one line and the reduced number of non-Pre-Checks flowing through the other.  They didn't, however, achieve the numbers they anticipated, so the whole system has slowed down radically.

Having a good process plan is one step.  Actually achieving prejected numbers is another.  As a general rule, its better to wait to make really costly decisions, like laying off people who are now being rehired, until you are sure you are going to get your numbers.  TSA didn't do thing and now some process managers have egg on their faces.  And it will get worse before it gets better because a lot more people travel in the summer.

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