11 Slowest Big-City Airport Security Lines

FareCompare’s Rick Seaney analyzed TSA’s data to find out which of the top 40 busiest airports have the longest security line waits. To get the results, they honed in on max times on Mondays from 2pm-6pm, Oct. 30 through Nov. 27.

Rank/Airport/Time/Terminal
11. (tie) Philadelphia – 25 minutes (D)
10. (tie) Atlanta – 25 minutes (Main)
9. Indianapolis – 26 minutes (A Concourse)
8. (tie) Oakland – 27 minutes (Terminal 2)
7. (tie) Miami – 27 minutes (Terminals D & H)
6. (tie) Cleveland – 27 minutes (4D Concourse)
5. LAX (Los Angeles) – 28 minutes (Terminal 4)
4. JFK (New York) – 29 minutes (3 pax ser)
3. DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth) – 34 minutes (E7)
2. Newark – 35 minutes (Terminal B/3)
1. New Orleans – 40 minutes (Checkpoint MSYC)

11 Slowest Big-City Airport Security Lines [RickSeaney]
(Photo: Ben Popken)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Underpants Gnome says:

    Interesting, i’ve flown out of New Orleans concourse C half a dozen times since 9/11 and never had to wait more than 30 seconds in line at security. I guess it’s just luck of the draw. My vote for worst security line is Las Vegas, that line takes up half the airport on a sunday.

  2. SeraSera says:

    Wow, that puts the DIA lines in perspective.

  3. BK88 says:

    Just flew out of DFW and ATL. The trick at ATL is to go through the
    “T Gates” screener on the far north side, by the American Airlines
    check-in counters. Serioulsy, it was a 2 minute wait on Sunday after
    Thanksgiving.

  4. protest says:

    maybe TSA does this at every airport, but last time i flew out of philly (last month) i was handed a yellow card while i was standing in the security check line. 2 people behind me and infront of me where also handed the ticket. when those people in front of me got up to the first guy who checks your boarding pass, we were all waived through, around the long line waiting for the xray scans, to a different area where we got through in less than 5 minutes. is this a trick to make it look like the TSA doesn’t slow things down as much? of course i’m not complaining, but i’ll bet those people in the long line were pissed.

  5. costanza007 says:

    Yeah no kidding, i’ve flown out of MSY (new orleans) a few times lately and it really hasn’t taken more than 5 minutes maximum in the lines.

  6. cmac says:

    The Miami airport is a disgrace. It’s like flying into a 3rd world country.

  7. Kurtz says:

    @Underpants Gnome and costanza007: I’m surprised New Orleans topped the list too. I fly out of MSY regularly and I’ve never had to wait longer than five minutes in line.

  8. HeyThereKiller says:

    @cmac: like um… Cuba perhaps?

    Just out of curiousity, does anyone know if that Clear (i think that’s what it’s called) program they have at JFK is actually any good?

  9. Mokers says:

    I have always wondered, since the TSA is taxpayer funded, why are there still separate security lines for first class passengers at some airports. Wouldn’t that mean my taxes are subsidizing somebody else’s speedy access to the terminal? I know I am a crazy libertarian and all, but doesn’t that seem wrong? Please tell me the airline pays for those people to get special treatment and not me.

    Anyway, it is interesting to look at the TSA site and look at how wait times vary throughout the day for the whole week. Might be a little more scientific to do the whole day as waiting times, especially for the big airlines might fluctuate based on their specific schedules. I was really surprised to see how efficient Terminal 1 at LAX is.

  10. olegna says:

    I have noticed the the rinky-dinkier the airport the more stuff you have to do to board a plane. For example, I once barded in Oklahoma City and they padded everyone daow, made them take off their shoes, even rubbed down the spine of passengers’ backs. I boarded a flight from Madrid to Atlanta and they just asked a few questions and did the normal stuff rather than the extraneous stuff. My theory is that the fund for airline security are being distributed in a screwy fashion and all these rinky dink airports are filled with bored TSA peeps.

    And US airport security in general is far more anal. I recently flew from the Middle East to Atlanta, via a 14-days stopover in Europe. I didn’t take off my shoes the entire trip until I got to the security checkpoint upon DE-BOARDING at Atlanta.

    In other words, after getting off an international flight in Atlanta, I had to go through security to enter the domestic concourse. Can somebody please tell me why they have a security checkpoint (not customs, mind you) after getting off a plane in the international terminal to enter the domestic one? That’s just dumb.

  11. lalawgirl says:

    I can’t believe that Vegas was not on list. I think the shortest wait I ever had there was 40 minutes — last time (in October) was over an hour and half.

  12. IndyJaws says:

    Agreed, McCarron (Vegas) should be very high on the list. However, the time they did the survey (Monday) was not reflective on how bad it can be. During large conventions, the wait time can be in the hours. About 3 years back, the line was over 1 mile long after CES was over, the wait was over 8 hours.

    And I completely agree about Indianapolis being one of the 10 worst.

  13. QWGHLM says:

    Mondays? Try Sundays in Miami International, when all the cruise lines dock at the Port of Miami. The lines of white people with corn rows in MIA are miles long.

  14. ptkdude says:

    @BK88: Don’t tell everybody!!!

  15. ptkdude says:

    @olegna: I think you may have done something wrong in Atlanta if you had to go back through security just to change planes. You can get from concourse E (international flights) to any of the domestic ones on the train without leaving the sterile area.

  16. idx says:

    I fly out of New Orleans a couple of times a month, and it’s always less than 5 minutes. Ditto the Vegas thing.

  17. improfound says:

    I can’t believe Washington Dulles is not on this list. I regularly wait over an hour, and this is mid-week! Dulles is the only airport I pay to avoid, just because of the horrific security lines.

  18. arkitect75 says:

    In MIA they’ve ganged a couple of the concourses together through one security checkpoint (granted there are about eight stations), and it’s a nightmare. where the line begins queuing, you’re standing in a five to six person wide “mob”.

    I just flew out of LAS a few weeks ago on a Sunday early AM flight and the line was the longest that I’ve ever been in. It took us an hour to get through the snaking barriers. One woman was so intent on increasing her place in line (once we broke into four lines) she start telling those in front of her that they were in the first class only security line, causing a few to move out of that line. TSA eventually opened up the handicap line to all and she darted to it.

  19. foghat81 says:

    Cleveland really shouldn’t be on that list. We’re much smaller than those other cities. Plus, D is the Continental only concourse. Being a hub, you’d think they’d have a better setup.

    Cmon Cleveland….we’re better than that.

  20. Trai_Dep says:

    I can personally attest to the fact that LAX (and SFO) is the biggest cluster-f*ck I’ve seen, although I’m sure others can introduce me to what true hell is at their airport. The mind boggles.

    Regards Atlanta airport, I’ve heard you can positively zip thru the TSA lines if you simply offer them a $1,000,000 bill…

  21. dlab says:

    Interesting to note that Hartsfield is the world’s busiest airport and yet it’s tied for 8th place. I would’ve thought it would be nearer to the top.

  22. theblackdog says:

    Baltimore has to be one of the easiest airports for me to fly out of. I’m usually through ticketing and security within 20 mins, which then means I’m waiting 1.5 hours for the plane to leave :-P

  23. stopNgoBeau says:

    @olegna: @ptkdude: If you fly into the US from countries where there is known terrorist activity (like the train bombings) or on an airline who’s screening procedures aren’t top notch, you will be required to go through security before you get to sneak your bomb onto a domestic flight.

  24. stopNgoBeau says:

    I’ve flown out of MSY on several occasion. If you do it in the morning, the lines aren’t that long. But try to go during peak hours, or when you have two planes leaving around the same time, and the line can back up. They rarely open the second x-ray screening point, and the TSA folks in New Orleans are just like everyone else, laid back and not worried about time. Good while you’re vacationing int he quarter, but bad when you need to make a flight.

  25. FatLynn says:

    Interesting that they only studied Monday mornings, though. Obviously that is peak time for business travelers, so I would expect a study done on, say, Friday evening to be totally different.

  26. SovietBear says:

    Cleveland is bad, but not really that bad. Last time through was 10 minutes.

    St. Louis is worse. Due to the lack of a centralized security point (one for each concourse) and the ‘organic’ way that the security lines form (aka a free-for-all).

  27. missdona says:

    Any of these airport studies of suckiness, is a great bet that Newark is going to be in the top 3.

  28. olegna says:

    STOPNGOBEAU: I fly trans-Atlantic at least twice a year and I assure you that is not the case. I flew Delta, by the way. Also: theis checkpoint was after going through Customs, which itself is a security checkpoint where all baggage is X-rayed and possibly had searched. This was unmistakably a useless redundancy, and, by the way the first and only time I took off my shoes after flying from the Middle East through Europe.

    @ptkdude: I didn’t have a chance to make a wrong turn or anything. I de-boarded, went through Customs, and right into a line for a secuirty checkpoint. This happened on Oct. 29, so maybe it’s a new thing, because I’ve flown trans-Atlantic before to Atlanta (with Delta) and didn’t have to do this. I think they just need to spend the TSA money or lose it — my theory.

  29. PeteyNice says:

    @BK88: Shhhhh about the T-Gates in ATL. That is a secret! There was NOONE there when I went away for Thanksgiving. Compared to a massive line for regular security.

    @DLAB: ATL is the World’s Busiest Airport but the vast majority of people who use it are connecting from elsewhere so they don’t go through security.

  30. castlecraver says:

    There is no “4D” concourse in Cleveland. There are also only 3 security checkpoints. There is a “D” concourse, but you access it through concourse “C” and the D & C passengers are screened together.

  31. QWGHLM says:

    @FatLynn: You must work the graveyard shift if 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. is “morning” to you! :)

  32. UpsetPanda says:

    What about areas in which there is only one hub to fly out of? I think McCarron (Vegas) is the major hub of all of Nevada, so they probably get a ton more traffic. I don’t know if that’s the case with Dallas though. I was surprised Dulles wasn’t on that list, but my experiences with delays at Dulles have been more to do with staffing (lufthansa staff decided that a group of 14 college students looked suspicious and delayed us 15 minutes searching our stuff, possibly compromising security in the airport by bringing in more staff just to search our stuff) rather than the planes.

  33. hexychick says:

    The scary thing about ATL is that the line for security is frequently backed up way into the food court area so you freak out thinking you’ll be there all day, but in reality it moves constantly and you’re out on your way to the terminal in under 30 minutes usually.

    @improfound: I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than 30 minutes at Dulles and I’ve flown out of there for many many years. I go there exclusively now because its 10 minutes from my house and is generally cheaper than the other two around here. If you want a really short trip through security, get flights out of there in the morning before 11. The only thing I hate about Dulles is the lack of transport to the terminals because you can’t get anywhere quickly.

  34. sleze69 says:

    This list is a bunch of crap only focusing on a certain day at a certain time. Try flying out of San Diego on the first flight of the day at 6:20am. Since security doesn’t even open until 5am, the line is between 100-150 people long. Unless your the first people in line, you will wait an hour to get through it.

    Having preferred status is the only reason I take the early morning flights.

  35. improfound says:

    @hexychick: yeah, i usually fly in the afternoon/evening. but i’ve missed two flights there because the line was so long (stretching all the way to the check-in area). and that’s getting there 1.5 hrs. early.

  36. blah12345 says:

    Yea for O’Hare! For such a busy airport, I always think they do a pretty good job with security wait times.

  37. jsgriggs says:

    In case you were curious about New Orleans (MSY): the article refers to the “famous” Continental/Delta terminal. Lines on this terminal’s security gate have reached over 3 hours (personal experience) since only one x-ray machine at a time is used (out of three).

    Remember, airlines themselves pay the salaries of the TSA staff. Southwest which operates the “five minute max line ” typically has two sets of x-ray mahcines up and running at any time. So, when the article lists specifically “Checkpoint MSYC” they are referring to the “Continental” terminal, not Terminal C.

    I’ve flown out of MSY over 30 times in the last 12 months (thanks Katrina!!!). And, flying Continental was always the biggest gripe among my co-workers. Since many of our flights were to Houston, we’d spend more time in the security line than in the air if we flew Continental over Southwest.

    Please post this up high. I love my former city (NOLA) and I don’t want this article to make tourists think that the city will always be horrible to travel through.

    Thanks!!

  38. djxspike says:

    the several time’s I’ve been through ATL it’s been very expedient – no where near 25 min. Maybe I’m lucky.

    Now Philly and Miami are a different story. Security is WAY more thorough at Miami and Philly the couple of times I’ve been through them.

  39. Mr. Gunn says:

    jsgriggs: I heard that!