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TSA crowdsources crowd problems

Pretty crowded at those checkpoints. Do you have any better ideas?

There’s a contest underway you may not know about. The Transportation Security Administration is offering $15,000 in prize money to anyone who can help it come up with a faster check-in system.

Some 1.8 million passengers fly daily across the U.S., and as the TSA knows all too well, many of them complain about long security lines and time-consuming pat-downs.

So, for three weeks, anyone can submit a proposal to help solve expected problems with TSA’s fast lane or “PreCheck” program, which the TSA "allows low-risk travelers to experience expedited, more efficient security screening." It seems to be doing well so far at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, says spokesman Andrew Sawyer.

“We’ve noticed that since PreCheck came to RDU a little over a year ago, we do see a lot of our customers using it,” said Sawyer.

As more people register for the pre-check system, it’s bound to get as clogged as the regular one that leaves travelers with no shoes and open laptops. 

Duke University Professor David Schanzer is director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. He says getting ideas from the public could be a winning strategy.

“While $15,000 seems like a lot to win in a contest, in the scheme of federal contracting if you come up with some really good ideas and solutions, it could be a bargain,” said Schanzer.

It’s a bargain for the federal government which, by the way, charges $85 just to apply for that pre check-in program.


This isn't the TSA's first time reaching out online. While airport security might be crowded and brusque, the TSA's web presence is affable, helpful, and surprisingly self-aware.

Their blog (yes, they have a blog) features tips for any kind of traveler imaginable.

Pregnant? Transporting gun parts? Got bear repellent in your carry-on? All three? They have a guide for you. There's also a kids section, wherein an adorable dog family shows youngsters how to go through a checkpoint — or at least gives them a picture of a checkpoint to color while mom and dad put their shoes, belts and jackets back on.

But the best thing about the TSA's online footprint, by far, is its Instagram account. There, under the hashtag #TSACatch, the organization documents the strangest confiscated items. Each photo contains a detailed and sometimes irreverent explanation for the confiscation and how you can avoid having your own lipstick taser taken away. Ditto for grenades, two (2!) different sets of Batarangs, novelty alarm clocks that look like bombs, and more.

All the photos are culled from the TSA's comprehensive week-in-review blog posts, which are interesting reads themselves. The TSA also realizes the importance of pets on Instagram, and regularly features its K-9 unit. Check out some of our favorite posts below:

About the author

Leoneda Inge is Changing Economy Reporter for North Carolina Public Radio.

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