Photo courtesy: Ben Popken
Under fire for long lines at major airports, the Transportation Security Administration is hiring more screening officers and deploying canine teams in an effort to cut down the wait.
The average wait time has nearly doubled at security checkpoints over the past year, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson acknowledged in congressional hearings this month. And that’s not expected to let up anytime soon. The TSA expects 7% more people to travel during this year’s spring-break season than did last year.
Airports across the country have been outspoken about the backlog. At Newark Liberty Airport, both flyers and employees have been vocal about excessively long lines. In response, United Airlines issued a statement saying it’s working with the TSA to improve wait times at some security checkpoints.
At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, general manager Miguel Southwell publicly chided the TSA, saying the airport has been “plagued by inadequate TSA staffing” and "struggled with TSA staffing shortfalls in 2015, and the airport is dreading the outcome of summer 2016."
Officials at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport also called out the TSA earlier this month, saying understaffing is causing wait times up to an hour.
It’s a common trend at airports – a rising number of passengers coupled with a declining number of federal screeners. Nationwide, the number of TSA screeners has dropped about 15%.
TSA promises action
In the wake of the complaints, TSA head Peter Neffenger, visiting Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport on Friday, promised to bring in two bomb-sniffing canine teams by the end of the month. Under current TSA guidelines, travelers who are screened by canine units may be permitted to use the TSA Pre-Check lines to keep the wait times down if necessary. Neffenger also said he has approved overtime during the hectic spring-break season.
The TSA also will collaborate with Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at MSP, to allow Delta employees to help with non-security tasks, such as running bins at the checkpoints, to free up TSA staffers.
While Congress had capped the number of uniformed screeners for budgetary reasons, the TSA won congressional approval to reverse that decision. There are now about 42,800 screeners nationwide, compared to a peak of about 50,000 a few years ago, Associated Press has reported.
About 200 officers now graduate weekly from the TSA training academy, as the agency ups staffing across the country. The agency also has redeployed 28 teams to higher-volume airports.