It seems that every few years there are days or weeks where queues at airport security across whole countries or continents are huge, resulting in travellers missing flights, or at least being advised to arrive at airports unreasonably early (sometimes over three hours before their departure time).

Has there been any push by politicians in any country to hold airports responsible for this additional inconvenience to travellers, in the same way that the EU has introduced the flight compensation regulations (AKA EU No 261/2004) to hold airlines responsible for delays under their control. After all, the (maximum) number of passengers travelling should be a known quantity to airports, and (I believe) the security screening staff are under their control.

  • The number of travelers will grow and shrink throughout the year and even the day of the week. It is a bit unreasonable to expect the same security times at peak travel that they had at low levels.
    – Joe W
    Aug 21, 2022 at 13:59
  • @JoeW - in my opinion, the airport implicitly or explicitly made a commitment that it would be able to process an appropriate number of passengers within a reasonable time when it accepted a contract for the flight with an airline. It is not unreasonable for it to be held to account of that commitment. So long as waiting times are under the 'reasonable time' threshold (lets say this is set to 1h), the average time is not important (i.e. if 99,9% of people get through security in under 1h, the fact that the average is 15 or 55 minutes is not important).
    – anon
    Aug 21, 2022 at 15:41
  • What is a reasonable time? How much more would you expect travelers to pay for flights if airports had to keep enough staff of hand to handle periods of high traffic? The people needed would still have to be paid during times of low traffic in order to have them on hand and ready for high periods and unexpected spikes. Also is it even possible to throw more people at it in order to make it go faster? Most airports I have been at the limitation seems to be more of how much space they have for checkpoints then the number of people running it.
    – Joe W
    Aug 21, 2022 at 16:21
  • @JoeW I think we are getting off topic. The question is not whether such measures would be sensible (on which it appears we disagree), but whether any country / political unit is considering them whether they are sensible or not.
    – anon
    Aug 21, 2022 at 16:27
  • And I disagree with that, if it isn't sensible to think they can handle peak traffic without having excessive costs that would be passed on to the traveler why would they get held accountable for wait times? Could they work to reduce the wait times? Sure but the cost of air travel would be a lot higher.
    – Joe W
    Aug 21, 2022 at 20:53

2 Answers 2


Has there been any push by politicians in any country to hold airports responsible for this additional inconvenience to travellers, in the same way that the EU has introduced the flight compensation regulations (AKA EU No 261/2004) to hold airlines responsible for delays under their control. After all, the (maximum) number of passengers travelling should be a known quantity to airports, and (I believe) the security screening staff are under their control.

The premise that traveller screening is under airport control is not true in the United States.

Following the 9-11 attacks in the year 2001, the U.S. nationalized the airport security system by creating the federal government agency within the Department of Transportation, known as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In the year 2003 this was transferred to the newly created federal Department of Homeland Security.

All airport security check officials are now federal government employees who do not report to airport management.

It would be grossly unfair to hold an airport responsible for the actions of a federal government agency that it does not control.

And, the TSA itself is immune from liability on the grounds of sovereign immunity except as provided by the Federal Tort Claims Act which does not create a waiver of immunity for delays in airport security lines.

This is a material factor globally. All seven of the busiest airports by passenger traffic in 2021 were in the United States, as were 13 of the top 25. Eight more of the twenty-five busiest airports are in China, and another is in Russia, neither of which are notable for excessive security checkpoint lines by international standards, and neither of which are heavily used as international "hub" airports.

  • There are a few US airports that have private security agents operating to TSA standards and, I believe, under TSA oversight. I don't know the details.
    – phoog
    Aug 22, 2022 at 22:35
  • @phoog Even then, depending upon the contracts involved, it might be a federal government subcontract of a governmental function and present the same issues for the most part. I don't think that arrangement is common either.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 22, 2022 at 22:37
  • It's certainly uncommon. I encountered it on a ski vacation, but I don't remember whether it was in Montana or Wyoming. Whether it's a federal contract or not I imagine it doesn't make the airport responsible for the operational decisions of the security agents.
    – phoog
    Aug 22, 2022 at 22:55
  • 1
    Apparently it was at both Bozeman and Jackson Hole. The largest of the 22 airports is San Francisco. The list is at tsa.gov/for-industry/screening-partnerships
    – phoog
    Aug 22, 2022 at 23:02

This would not be enforceable and why should a particular segment of the population (air travelers) need to be more molly-coddled than others?

First, let's start out with the legal concept of Act of God. Or force majeure

common clause in contracts which essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, epidemic or sudden legal changes prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.

I'll return to it later. But first, let's quote the question:

After all, the (maximum) number of passengers travelling should be a known quantity to airports.

During 2020/2021, that known quantity crashed, due to covid. Airports were, literally, empty. Airports, and airlines, laid off a lot of staff.

Aviation lost 2.3 million jobs globally during the pandemic, with ground-handling and security hardest hit, according to industry lobby group the Air Transport Action Group. Many workers are slow to return, lured by the 'gig' economy or opting to retire early.

Now, of course, this could have been avoided, had governments put these workers on payroll. But as this wasn't the case, the industry, like other industries, laid off people.

Going into 2022 we started getting vaccines. But if you remember, the end of 2021, early 2022 saw the rise of the omicron variants, with numbers spiking through the roof. Which industry could predict exactly what governments were likely to do, and which industry is more uniquely exposed to covid restrictions than air transport?

Again, this could have been mitigated by governments bankrolling the payroll of airport staff. But, as a taxpayer who doesn't fly all that much, that already seems like a bad idea - user pays, at least on elective services, as far as I am concerned. More, as a person deeply concerned about climate and CO2 emissions, where aviation use is a non-negligible driver, despite the numbers being mostly due to minority of, well-off, people, that is a spectacularly bad idea.

In the US, 12% of people took 66% of all flights, while in France 2% of people took half of the flights, the report says. In China 5% of households took 40% of flights and in India just 1% of households took 45% of all the flights.

It was already known that 10% of people in England took more than half of all international flights in 2018. A global study reported by the Guardian in November found that frequent-flying “super emitters” who represent just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018. Almost 90% of the world’s population did not fly at all that year.

The coronavirus pandemic has slashed the number of flights taken but campaigners fear government bailouts of airlines will cause aviation to return to its pre-pandemic growth trend.

News to you, perhaps, but plenty of businesses are struggling with post-pandemic problems. There is nothing inherently special about airline passenger issues and, if you want better service, perhaps accept that you may need to pay more.

Again, very free-market: user pays.

Trying to enforce regular SLA contract compliance on a business that has been whacked with something as existential to the airline industry as covid is a fool's errand.

That is not to say everything airport authorities do is above scrutiny, only that expecting an immediate bounceback in service is unrealistic.

A major factor slowing hiring is the time it takes new workers to get security clearance - in France, up to five months for the most sensitive jobs, according to the CFDT union.

If this situation was happening within more usual circumstances, such as seasonal variations without exceptional circumstances, then you'd have a point. But this was unprecedented.

Last, it doesn't help that many travelers revel in vilifying airport security staff like TSA at the first opportunity, and that was before the pandemic. In many cases, this is neither a highly paid, nor a particularly attractive gig.

Marie Marivel, 56, works as a security operator screening luggage at CDG for around 1,800 euros a month post-tax.

She says shortages have led to staff being overworked. Stranded passengers have been turning aggressive. Morale is low.

"We have young people who come and leave again after a day," she says. "They tell us we're earning cashiers' wages for a job with so much responsibility."

When I do travel, which is a privilege, not a right, I have rarely had that much to complain about. Yes, airport security is annoying. Would you rather they not check anything before boarding?

On a longer-term, non-Covid, basis, the problem is that airports are most often operated either based on long-term concessions to commercial operators or by quasi-governmental NGOs.

Theoretically, the first type could lose their operating license, but in practice many private companies operating government-granted monopolies are rarely held accountable and rarely lose their concession.

The second type is even less likely to be sanctioned as it is essentially an extension of the local government. Firing the CEO or the like is doable, but whether it fixes structural problems is another.

YVR, for Vancouver says:

As a not-for-profit, community-based organization, we are not government-run or beholden to shareholders. Rather, we are committed to our communities, constantly improving the airport for everyone while supporting our region.

Once operating cirucumstances are back to pre-covid normal, putting in place compensation schemes for proven, avoidable, inconveniences: why not?

Last, but not least, capacity issues at airports are often due to physical constraints, where the surrounding community does not want to extend the airport, while the passenger load grows ever greater. Again, with the growing concern about climate change, expansion is unlikely to get easier.

Whole books could be written about the drama to expand Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle.

(BBC) Heathrow wins court battle to build third runway

(BBC) Climate campaigners win Heathrow expansion case - BBC News

The airport operator is hardly at fault in those cases, is it?

  • Note: the 'police' tag was added in an edit made by a third party and was not present in the original post.
    – anon
    Aug 22, 2022 at 9:58
  • I think this response is unnecessarily confrontational (e.g. "News to you, perhaps"), focuses on the current post-covid situation to the detriment of the broader position, and assumes motives on my part which do not exist. You are answering the question "would punishing airports for current queue times be possible/appropriate/sensible", but the question asked was "Has there been any push by politicians in any country to hold airports responsible". Politicians often make laws / regulations which are not practical, sensible and which we may not agree with.
    – anon
    Aug 22, 2022 at 10:10
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    I think this answer answers a different question. The question was "was there a political push." But you are answering the question "is a political push justified." Political movements can exist even if their goals are not justified. So whether or not a goal is worthwhile is besides the point.
    – wrod
    Aug 22, 2022 at 10:13
  • This is right wing propaganda that doesn't reflect the situation in the UK or EU where government-mandated compensation for delayed or cancelled trains and planes is common.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 22, 2022 at 11:30
  • @StuartF LOL, your right wing is very different from ours if its propaganda includes concerns about global warming. But I'll add a bit to the steady-state (i.e. not exceptional/covid times) bit of the answer. Hint: calling out others for "propaganda", rather than pointing out mistakes/possible improvements hardly gives much credence to one's arguments. Aug 22, 2022 at 19:08

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