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TSA Lines Causing Frowns? Send in the Clowns! (and Tiny Horses)

Overloaded airports are getting creative in their attempts to keep passengers pacified.
Fern Street Circus performers entertain travelers at the San Diego International Airport.
Fern Street Circus performers entertain travelers at the San Diego International Airport.San Diego International Airport

With mounting delays around the country being blamed on Transportation Security Administration cutbacks and increased passenger traffic, airports are turning to musical performers and free sweets to keep travelers' tempers in check.

And some airports are getting a little more creative.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is now inviting miniature therapy horses and their handlers from the non-profit Seven Oaks Farms Miniature Therapy Horses program in Hamilton, Ohio to visit the terminals several times a month.

“Animals help reduce stress and anxiety levels and put smiles on people’s faces,” said Mindy Kershner, a spokeswoman for the airport.

“Unlike service animals, who are working and should not be touched, therapy animals can be patted and hugged."

And while many other airports have therapy dog programs in the terminals, “We figured this is Kentucky, after all, so we need horses,” Kershner said.

San Diego International Airport is bringing in the clowns.

As part of a performing arts residency program, Fern Street Circus will be offering performances, rehearsals and workshops in the airport over the next eight months.

“They are creating content inspired by the traveler experience, so they will constantly be visible, trying out new ideas and interacting with passengers,” said airport spokesman Jonathan Heller. “We certainly think they will be at the checkpoints often, as people waiting in line are a great audience for them!”

Sea-Tac Airport is expanding its popular post-security music program to the pre-security areas, and dipping into it coffers to hire extra staff workers to help TSA with some checkpoint duties, such as bin loading and unloading.

Read More: Drop Baggage Fees to Shorten TSA Lines, Lawmakers Tell Airlines

The airport in Atlanta is adding extra music performers in the areas before security, and bringing on more staff members to answers travelers' questions.

During very busy checkpoint wait times, the team will also be handing out snacks and beverages to passengers in line.

“Passengers in the world’s most traveled airport should not be surprised if they find themselves welcomed, offered a bottled water and provided information by ATL’s general manager,” said airport spokesman Andy Gobeil.

At Denver International Airport, the customer service team now occasionally hands out water, Hershey’s Kisses, Peppermint Patties and lollipops to passengers waiting on long lines.

“We can’t participate in security-related procedures,” said DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery, “but we are talking with the TSA about how we can creatively use airport staff for things like bin management and other non-security tasks.”

For its part, the Transportation Security Administration says it working with airlines and airports on strategies for cutting down the long wait times at airports. Solutions include moving canine teams to the busiest hub airports, increasing budgets for staffing and overtime and, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, working with Delta Air Lines to test fast-loading, radio frequency identification bins at two checkpoint lanes at the airport in Atlanta.

Two senators are urging airlines to help reduce checkpoint lines by dropping checked bag fees for the summer.

Read More: Please Pardon Our Progress This Summer, TSA Tells Frustrated Travelers

“Without charges for checking their bags, passengers will be far less likely to carry them on, which snarls screening checkpoints and slows the inspection process,” U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a letter to executives at 12 major U.S. airlines.

Airlines are warning passengers to show up extra early for their flights.

And while urging travelers to join the TSA PreCheck program, which offers expedited checkpoint access, the airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) is encouraging fliers to be vocal on social media about their long checkpoint wait time complaints.

The groups “IHateTheWait” asks travelers to use Twitter and Instagram — and the #IHateTheWait hashtag — to share photos and comments about how unhappy they are with their experience on long TSA lines.

Many other airports are doing their part too.

Many are putting “arrive earlier than ever” notes on their websites and sending tweets when waits are unusually long.

Others, including Seattle-Tacoma International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airports and, most recently, the Port Authority of New York & Jersey (operator of JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports), issued statements or sent TSA letters saying they’re exploring using private contractors instead of TSA staff for checkpoint duties.

Fern Street Circus performers entertain travelers at the San Diego International Airport.
Fern Street Circus performers entertain travelers at the San Diego International Airport.San Diego International Airport