Q: What did TSAwait do?
A: TSAwait stored and displayed a database of wait time statistics for TSA security checkpoints at U.S. airports. Unfortunately, after the app was released the TSA stopped releasing this data to the public. Because of that, this app ceased to be useful years ago. But we leave this here because we spent a lot of time working on it and documenting it, as an homage to what might have been.
Q: Can’t I get this information for free directly from the TSA web site?
A: [Not any more; for some reason the TSA no longer thinks it needs to publicly release its statistics on how they serve the public]
Q: TSAwait said my wait would be 10 minutes, so why did it turn out to be 30?
A: TSAwait only provides the statistics that are published by the TSA. It cannot predict the future (that technology is reserved for our planned LotteryPicker application). TSAwait can give you a better sense of what to expect, and in particular it can help you identify an airport’s busier and slower times, since those tend to be driven by the airline’s regular schedules. Obviously there are many factors (weather, holidays, conventions, regional events, etc.) that can make any particular trip through the checkpoint differ from the historical statistics (and even impact the statistics themselves). Even over the span of a single hour you are likely to see peaks and valleys that get smoothed out to a single pair of numbers. Such is the curse of statistics.
Q: The security line was pretty much as predicted, but why did it take me another half hour to check in for my flight?
A: These statistics only cover the waits for security checkpoints. There are other aspects of air travel (parking, airline check in, etc.) that are not included in these numbers. However, as a rule of thumb, the TSA checkpoint lines are proportional to the overall traffic at the airport, so if you are hitting an airport at a peak time, you can probably expect similarly peak waits in other areas.
Q: If this thing can’t tell me exactly what my wait will be, what’s the point?
A: TSAwait is just a tool to give you more information to assist in travel planning. By looking at the overall statistics, you can get a better sense of how long it will take you to go through airport security than just generic “be there two hours early” suggestions. If you have the flexibility in your schedule, you can find the best days and times to fly that are likely to minimize your wait. It also can tell you if an alternate checkpoint is likely to have a shorter wait. And it has some pretty colors.
Q: What is the difference between the Full and Lite versions of TSAwait?
A: The Lite version is free but only contains data on 50 randomly selected airports. The statistics are also locked into the app and cannot be updated by the user. Future version releases will update the data and load a different random set of airports. The full version costs $1, but it will have all (over 400) airports available from the TSA, and enable online updates to the statistics. The full version will also have a few more convenience features, like the ability to set your favorite airports for quick access.
Q: The airport I care about isn’t in the Lite version!
A: Sure, that’s an exclamation, not a question, but we suspect it will tend to be voiced that way. Since the Lite version only has about 1/8th of the total airports pre-loaded, those are pretty much your odds for seeing any given airport. Our crack market research team has suggested that if we put every airport in the Lite version, fewer people will be compelled to buy the full one. But we are providing the full set of statistics for all the airports that are included. Also, the airport set will change with each release, so you can always wait and roll the dice next time around.
Q: Why are you charging for the full version?
A: The raw data as made available from the TSA is not that practical to process in the palm of your hand. We wrote the code, and it can be done, but it takes a couple minutes and will surely seem much longer when you are actually waiting for it. We felt a better approach was to process the data once, then make it available for download to the TSAwait application in a format it was ready to use. Since it costs money to host that update online and deliver it every time someone pushes their Update button (today and in the months ahead), we need to cover those ongoing costs. This is especially true since, for some reason, more people seem to download and use free apps than they do paid ones.
Q: Why can I only update the statistics weekly? Aren’t they updated daily?
A: The TSA updates their data file every day, and we intend to update our processed copy every day so it is available for download. However, the full TSAwait application will initially only permit that data download once per week. Once the app has been out for a while and we can get a better handle on the volume and frequency of updates, we will look at easing that restriction. However, as a practical matter you aren’t likely to see major differences in the data from day to day anyway, so there is not a lot of added value in updating it so frequently.
Q: I just updated TSAwait, but it says the numbers are as of yesterday. What’s wrong?
A: Probably nothing significant. The TSA data file is generally updated early each morning. So if you update your application really early, you still might get the previous day’s data. Occasionally the file is updated later or even skips a day altogether. The date shown in TSAwait always reflects the date associated with the actual TSA data file, not when we processed it (or when you downloaded it).
Q: How far back do the TSA statistics go?
A: The date indicated in TSAwait is the release date of the data, which are provided for every hour of every day of the week. Generally about four weeks of prior history are used in the computation of the maximum and average wait times. Keep in mind that if there were any holidays or special events in the past month or so, it could skew the statistics.
Q: Why doesn’t the threat level indicator match the one on the TSA website?
A: The Department of Homeland Security has setup a means to access and display their current overall threat level, which is what TSAwait uses. Air transportation can have a threat level defined that is separate from the general DHS one. But since the TSA does not package it up as nicely as DHS does, we are only providing the generic, overall, threat level at this time. If we can determine a way to reliably access the air travel version, we will switch over to that.
Q: Why is the icon so goofy?
A: Look, it’s about the seventh icon we’ve tried, and it happened to be the one that was on it when the app when live. We reserve the right to replace it with a more artsy icon whenever we can manage to come up with a better one. Trust us, it’s a lot better than some of the others we had.
Q: Will TSAwait work on an iPod touch?
A: Yes. Both the Lite and Full versions will work on the touch, although you will need a WiFi connection to update the statistics on the Full version. Once updated, a WiFi connection will not be needed, as the data are stored locally (however, the DHS threat level indicator will only be shown when a connection is active).
Q: Will this application work forever?
A: [Apparently not]