How not to miss your flight from long TSA lines this summer

HONOLULU — Kahului Airport is Maui’s main flight hub and Hawaii’s second-busiest airport, currently operating with a single TSA checkpoint for all passengers. Last weekend — a normal, non-holiday weekend — those who found themselves ready to leave Maui waited up to 84 minutes in a long TSA line in the afternoon sun.

On Sundays around 1 p.m., the TSA line passes the chandeliers and exits onto the uncovered sidewalk of Kahului Airport. People without TSA PreCheck held their backpacks to protect themselves from the scorching sun. There was a lot of sweat.

The airport took note.

“We were handing out cups of water to passengers on the sidewalk,” Marvin Moniz, airport district manager, told USA TODAY. That weekend, the extra wait time was likely due to one of the screening lanes being down on Saturday, he said. The airport has since purchased a canopy to shade people while they queue.

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But travelers shouldn’t be surprised — summer travel is in high demand because many Americans are determined to get somewhere no matter what.

The number of people passing through TSA checkpoints is rapidly returning to pre-pandemic numbers. On July 21, 2.4 million people went through the TSA, up from 2.1 million last year – in 2019 it was 2.7 million.

Here’s what you need to know about TSA lines if you’re traveling this summer.

How long are the TSA lines at the moment?

The Transportation Security Administration says without TSA preclearance, wait times haven’t been “a big deal,” given summer travel issues like staffing shortages. But those who were at Kahului airport last weekend without TSA PreCheck can tell otherwise.

The average TSA wait time across the country is at least 30 minutes, Robert Langston, a TSA spokesperson, told USA TODAY. With PreCheck, this can take around 10 minutes.

A passenger walks past a sign for the Transportation Security Administration's TSA Precheck line June 27, 2016, in Terminal A at Logan Airport in Boston.

TSA wait times also vary depending on the day and time of your flight. In Maui, Moniz said “the peak time of the day is usually 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. because there are a few extra flights that have been squeezed into that time.” Saturday and Sunday are even busier, with extra flights on the schedule, so keep that in mind.

“A lot of it is summer travel, and a lot of it is due to airlines increasing summer flight schedules,” Moniz said of the high passenger volume.

Some have called the airlines “too ambitious” for their busy summer flight schedules, and airlines are now cutting flights, some by as much as 10%.

“We monitor wait times at each airport and work with our airport and airline partners to anticipate higher traffic patterns,” Langdon said. He said the TSA has a nationwide deployment force of 1,000 less busy airport workers who “volunteer” to airports in need.

This summer, the TSA is also distributing “Advanced Checkpoint Technology” which is more effective at security screening, but may temporarily cause longer wait times when installed.

If your flight is delayed, you may be eligible for compensation from your airline

How can I check the waiting time at my airport?

You can easily check if the TSA line is long via the MyTSA mobile app, which displays real-time estimated wait times for airports across the country.

There’s also a “Plan your trip” feature that lets you enter information about the day and time of your upcoming flight to see standard wait times pulled from TSA data. This way you can arrange your airport transportation accordingly.

A quick search shows that on Saturdays around 1 p.m. at Kahului Airport, the standard wait time is “usually over 60 minutes.”

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How long should I arrive at the airport before my flight?

Most say to arrive at the airport two to three hours before your flight, give or take some time for factors like if you know the airport it’s an international flight (i.e. , add more time), or you are checking baggage. Your airline’s website should have recommendations for check-in time, etc.

For popular travel destinations, such as Maui, you may want to add even more time and err on the side of caution. Moniz suggested 2.5 hours in general, and three if your flight is on the weekend.

Like many other Americans who are excited about their summer travel plans, better to be safe (and sooner) than sorry and miss your flight.