This is a follow-up to an article I posted last week concerning a story in the Kansas City Business Journal that was part of a national look at America’s airports. Following the post I received multiple requests to dig a little deeper on where everyone’s data came from. I’ve since asked for and received follow-up information from TSA as well as from Brian Kaberline, editor of the Business Journal. Here are some highlights:
According to Mr. Kaberline, the original data used in the KCBJ article came from a TSA Wait Times website with times reported by travelers. It was only for the week of January 14-20 – a one week period. Their averaging of that data resulted in their published average wait time at KCI of 28.8 minutes. I’ve not seen that original data. However if you look at that same site today the data is sparse at best. In fact, the most recent entry is from 10 days ago and to get four entries, one has to go back 16 days. Looking at those four entries, if you remove a bogus time of 120+ minutes from some joker who posted it after the checkpoint had closed for the day, you get an average wait time of zero. If one looks at all of the wait times posted in the last 30 days, there are 5x no wait, 3x 1-10 minute, 1x 11-20 minute, and the 120+ joker. Bottom line is that to use this as primary data in a front page national story is at best remarkably lazy and at worst intentionally deceptive. I’m not going to speculate as to which. Mr. Kaberline in his response to me on Twitter said,
Our figures came from TSA, averaged for Jan. 14-20, as were figures for all airports we compared. Self-reported figures that will vary.
With all respect to Mr. Kaberline, his data did not come from TSA. It came from a site that TSA hosts but does nothing to control the data posted. It would be like the KCMO Street Department hosting a website for people to report potholes. No one knows about it and no one reports any potholes. A Business Journal researcher goes to the website, sees nothing and reports that there are no potholes in Kansas City and cites the KCMO Street Department as the source.
The data I cited in my rebuttal post did come directly from a TSA representative who was sent the Business Journal data to review. One frequent commenter has since asked about the methodology used in the actual TSA numbers I cited. Here is TSA’s response:
It is measured in actual time, using a verifiable system such as wait time cards, closed circuit television (CCTV) monitoring, or other confirmable method. Estimation is not authorized.
So what’s the point of all this? After all, I pointed out back in 2014 that TSA took most of the security issue out of the single-terminal conversation when they told the mayor’s task force they would not let Kansas City International Airport reduce the number of checkpoints in a new terminal to save money. This also meant that wait times would not increase with a new terminal. (Of course, they also said that our current multi-checkpoint system offered security benefits by spreading the risk as well as reducing the number of people affected by a breach. But I digress.)
The point here is the same one that launched this blog. An honest conversation. Four years ago it was the Star parroting the since discredited sales pitch from the Aviation Department. Now we have our business publication of record publishing numbers that might have earned a Reporting 101 student a failing grade. As a long time subscriber, I am doubly disappointed. Getting the actual data took very little effort and there are people at TSA whose only job is to provide data for media people.
I’m respectfully asking for a retraction/correction, both online and in print, for anything that appeared in any Business Journal that listed KCI as having a 28.8 minute wait time. At minimum that would be the airport chart and subsequent editorial. Why? Because through what some might call journalistic malpractice, comically incorrect data has become part of the public discussion. I’ve been told that during a board meeting, the Executive Director of the Platte County EDC cited the 28.8 minute wait times as a reason to move forward with a single terminal. KCBJ bears responsibility for this and I hope their commitment to accuracy leads them to do the right thing and correct the record.
The good news is, I don’t think it needs to be a national retraction, I cannot find any evidence online that this particular ranker ran anywhere outside of Kansas City, despite it being part of a “national project”. It didn’t even run in Atlanta even though Atlanta was ranked number one. Perhaps they knew better. In the data I received from TSA in response to the KCBJ chart, Atlanta was as expected, dead last for wait times among the top 50 airports.
A final note about wait times… As I noted above and in 2014, security wait times are no longer an issue in this conversation. The mayor’s task force was told that TSA has a goal of averaging 10 minutes or less at every airport in the country and will require facilities and staffing to achieve this. Among the top 50 airports in the country, Atlanta was last but with an average time of 7.11 minutes. The best was Nashville at 1.24. KCI you’ll recall was between them at 3.63. (Looking at these times, especially Atlanta, it makes me wonder if TSA starts the timer at the ID checkpoint.) Regardless, when measuring convenience from a time standpoint, the security wait is only part of it. There is the parking/drop-off to security piece and of course the security to gate piece.
Better discussions require better information.