Airport security lines at many large airports right now are nothing short of miserable. Wouldn’t it be nice to know just how miserable?
With passengers desperate for ways to avoid waiting in crazy-long lines, the craving for a tech-enabled solution is real. But no one application exists to beat the wait at this point.
A handful of apps attempt to use real-time crowd-sourced data and modeling to help travelers figure out how long airport security lines are or will be. Two of them have drawn such high demand recently that their websites have been crashing.
But the apps may be no match for the hours-long delays travelers have reported lately. Some of the services will note only that a delay is more than 20 or 30 minutes – even if the wait is closer to two hours.
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And any extra information can help travelers only to a point, said travel expert Peter Greenberg.
“No one app is going to make the line shorter,” Greenberg said.
Still, are they better than flying blind? Here’s a look at a few apps and their features.
The Transportation Security Administration’s own app, My TSA, lets users view other travelers’ wait times. A traveler at Chicago’s O’Hare, for instance, can post his or her wait time – including the terminal or checkpoint and how long the wait was in 10-minute increments up to 30 minutes or more.
But My TSA’s design doesn’t make it clear whether travelers are using PreCheck. The app also doesn’t offer an average wait time, so passengers have to scroll through multiple submissions to determine how long they may have to wait.
The My TSA app is available free on iPhone and Android; the TSA also offers a mobile website.
iFly offers another website and app to help travelers estimate wait times, though CEO Tony Hanseder said long waits recently have resulted in the website’s servers being overloaded.
Hanseder said the company estimates wait times based on both historical data and predictive modeling. The site and app receive more than 1 million hits a month, he said. The company receives some of its information from WhatsBusy, which also estimates wait times.
Currently, both iFly and WhatsBusy present only three ranges for possible wait times: zero to 10 minutes, 10 to 20 minutes or more than 20 minutes. However, WhatsBusy said it’s working to update time ranges to accommodate heavier delays.
iFly’s website is free; the app, “TSA Wait Times by iFly,” costs $3.99 in the iOS App Store. It’s not available on Android.
WhatsBusy, a data analytics company that helps companies determine how many people to staff at a given time, also offers an airport wait time website but no mobile app.
Co-founder Jordan Thaeler said the company has historically used TSA data along with other information to estimate times.
But for some time up until this week, WhatsBusy hadn’t been receiving updated numbers from the TSA.
The company uses that TSA data, which details how many passengers the agency is able to process through each security line, then combines that with data pertaining to when passengers show up for flights.
Like iFly, WhatsBusy’s website has had trouble with the recent demand. The company provides data for iFly and other sites.
MiFlight, a San Francisco-based company, offers an app that estimates wait times using crowd-sourced data and other sources.
“We like to call ourselves Waze for people,” founder Michael Harmell said, referring to the navigation app that uses real-time crowd-sourced data to identify delays and estimated drive times.
Harmell wouldn’t say how many users the app has or how many users actually self-report the data when in line. He said he hopes to one day sell the company’s data to enterprises. The app is available free on the iOS App Store.