TSA puts wait times online

Passengers dreading long lines at airports are now one step closer to estimating the amount of time they have to wait.

A new portion of the Transportation Security Administration's Web site, www.tsa.gov, publishes security checkpoint wait times. This data is based on historic average wait times at 450 airports nationwide. The estimates do not include the time spent at ticket counters the screening process, parking or the airline's suggested time of arrival.

"Here's one piece you need for the equation," said Kevin Lawson, chief architect of the site. "TSA is trying to be transparent with its information."

TSA' executive director of customer service and education, Ron Sokolov said the site, which was launched Aug. 10, cost $25,000 to create and will cost about an additional $25,000 a year to maintain.

Since the information is public and available in Extensible Markup Language, private companies have commercialized the information, much to TSA officials' delight. Oshkosh, Wis.-based Fox World Travel Inc. lists security wait times at www.gofox.com, and another company updates kiosks in hotels and airports with the data.

So, far TSA's site has had close to 80,000 visitors, not counting the commercial sites. "The more opportunities we have to get this information out the public, the better," Sokolov said.

The data is not live but rather based on a 28-day rolling average taken at the airports on the hour or half-hour. To get accurate measures, TSA employees give a few time-stamped cards to passengers at the end of the line every half-hour, during peak times, and every hour during other times. The cards are collected at the checkpoint and the time elapsed is documented. These are averages; the site does not always reflect real conditions.

TSA turned around the project in fewer than 45 days with the help of aviation operations, IT, strategic management and public affairs officials. In the future, the agency might partner with other industry stakeholders that could provide a more comprehensive wait time.

Sternstein is a freelance writer based in Potomac, Md.

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