TSA Under Pressure as 34 Million Expected to Hit the Roads for Memorial Day

Image: Heavy Memorial Day traffic moves southbound and northbound in Quantico, Virginia
Heavy Memorial Day traffic moves southbound and northbound along I-95 May 22, 2015 in Quantico, Virginia.Win McNamee / Getty Images, file

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By Erik Ortiz

A near-record 34 million Americans are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend thanks in large part to the cheapest prices at the gas pump in 11 years.

But for air travelers, all eyes will be on the Transportation Security Administration as passengers contend with what are feared to be nightmarish security lines at the nation's airports.

TSA chief Peter Neffenger — under fire for how his agency has been handling those lines — pledged Wednesday to congressional lawmakers to alleviate the problem, specifically at hard-hit O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Travelers through O'Hare have complained about waits at security checkpoints taking two to three hours — causing them to miss flights.

"There will be 58 new (TSA) officers there by the end of this week," said Neffenger, adding that wait times have been brought down to 15 minutes at O'Hare.

American Airlines also said this week that more than 70,000 of its customers have failed to catch their flights because of security wait times.

"We have never seen TSA wait times that affect airlines and passengers throughout the United States like we have seen in recent months," American Airlines executive Kerry Philipovitch told a House subcommittee on Thursday.

"To say customers are agitated is putting it mildly," she added.

Drivers may not fare that much better on highways expected to be clogged with travelers. But they can at least look forward to the lower gas prices — averaging about $2.29 a gallon for regular unleaded, 40 cents lower than last year, according to AAA.

Just don't expect the savings to last for long.

The price of oil climbed back to $50 per barrel this week for the first time since last July, and the price of regular gas is now at more than $2 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time since August.

Still, AAA says, travelers aren't deterred. The group expects a 2.1 percent increase in Americans driving at least 50 miles this Memorial Day weekend compared to last year. That's also the highest since 2005.

"The great American road trip is definitely back," said AAA CEO Marshall Doney, adding that an improving economy and rising personal incomes are prodding people to hit the roads.