The Slow Pace Of Airports: Understanding The Problem

Navigating through an airport can be a frustrating experience, and it often feels like it takes ages to get to where you need to be. So, why are airports so slow?

Airports are so slow due to staff shortages, unprepared passengers, and time-consuming airport security checks. They are also huge places, and it can take a long time to get to your terminal or gate. Poorly-designed airports, construction, and renovations can also make them slow. 

This article will explore how the above factors contribute to airport delays. Let’s get started! 

Manchester Airport Terminal 2 Departures 2022
Manchester Airport Terminal 2 Departures 2022

1. Staff Shortages 

When arriving at the airport to check-in, it’s normal to find that only a few desks are open, resulting in long lines. This is no accident and is usually an attempt by the airline to save money by only employing a limited number of check-in employees

Things don’t get any better when you go through the security check, and there is often only a handful of security personnel working, causing further delays. 

Once you arrive at your gate and are ready to board your flight, you might find only two airline employees scanning hundreds of passengers’ boarding passes. 

Sometimes, airlines delay flights due to staff shortages, and this typically causes even longer lines at check-in, security, and boarding gates. This can also cause airports to fill up with passengers, making it challenging and slow to navigate your way through the terminal. 

2. Time-Consuming TSA Checks 

Airport security checks have always been time-consuming, but the 9/11 attacks forced the TSA to conduct more thorough passenger checks, resulting in longer lines. These additional measures included passengers having to: 

  • Remove their shoes and belts for scanning
  • Carry no liquids, gels, or aerosols (except those less than 3.4 oz/100 ml)
  • Place their electronic devices in a plastic basket for scanning
  • Undergo a body scan

The same is generally true for other countries, and well-traveled passengers now accept the long lines at security as normal or take advantage of programs such as TSA PreCheck. This allows passengers to undergo faster security screening, and they don’t need to remove their belts or shoes.

It doesn’t help that some passengers take their frustrations out on TSA staff. This causes further delays and could explain why TSA staff appear rude

3. Airports Are Vast Places

Airports can be huge places, especially if you are traveling through a large international hub, such as Atlanta or JFK.

Finding your way from one end of the airport to the other can sometimes take up to half an hour or more. This is especially true if you’re between flights. After arriving at one terminal, passengers must usually navigate to another one to catch their connecting flight. 

At a large airport, this may involve walking several hundred feet to a shuttle train or bus to take you to your departure terminal. After traveling on the bus or train, you will then need to walk to your gate, which can sometimes be at the other end of the terminal. 

The distance between your arrival point at the airport and where you need to be to catch your flight can seem vast and can consume much of your time at the airport. 

4. Airport Construction and Renovations

With traveling becoming increasingly popular, airports can often no longer cope with the huge influx of passengers flowing through them. They usually address this problem by building new terminals, redesigning current airport buildings, or renovating them. 

An airport that has ongoing construction or renovation can be a slow place for passengers because some sections may be closed off. This can impact all aspects of the airport: 

  • Renovating airport parking lots can cause a parking shortage, slowing down your arrival at the airport.
  • Redesigning the check-in hall makes it temporarily smaller, and the lines can seem longer.
  • Construction in the departure lounge forces passengers into a smaller area and can slow you down if you need to run to your gate.
  • Renovating the security section may force the airport to close security lanes, causing further delays.

5. Some Airports Are Poorly Designed

Some airports are slower than others, which can depend on various factors, including the airport’s design. If you are traveling through an old or poorly-designed airport, you should expect some delays. 

Poorly-designed airports usually have the following in common: 

  • Ambiguous, confusing, or insufficient signage
  • Not enough parking bays 
  • Being too small or too big for the number of passengers traveling through it
  • Not enough facilities for passengers, such as chairs, restrooms, or restaurants

The above factors can make the airport seem slow and frustrating. For instance, if the airport doesn’t have enough restaurants, it can cause long lines of passengers waiting to use it. 

Virgin Atlantic Boarding Sign
Virgin Atlantic Boarding Sign

6. Unprepared Passengers

The final reason for airports being slow is not the airport’s fault but the passengers’. Unprepared passengers often find that moving through the airport can be slow and tedious. Here’s why: 

  • Overweight luggage at check-in. For international flights, most airlines allow passengers to check in one large suitcase no heavier than 44 lb/20 kg. If passengers don’t comply with this, they can be delayed as they’ll need to redistribute their belongings or go to another desk to pay for an overweight bag. 
  • Not following TSA rules at security. If passengers don’t comply with the 3.4 oz/100ml liquid, gel, and aerosol rule, they may be delayed at security while the agent checks their bags. The same is true if they don’t remove their electronics before having their bag scanned. 
  • Arriving at the wrong terminal. Before heading to the airport, it’s important to check which terminal your flight leaves from. Arriving at the wrong one can significantly delay you. 
  • Having hand luggage that is too large. When boarding your flight, the agent scanning your boarding pass will glance at your hand luggage. If it’s too big for the overhead locker, you’ll need to wait while they process it as a checked bag.