Sunday, May 29, 2016

US air travelers can expect long lines this weekend

Peter Neffenger, top administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), told members of the House Homeland Security Committee that passengers will likely continue to experience longer than normal wait times over the summer.

Neffenger said the agency was promoting screeners from part time to full time, and reassigning hundreds of behavioral detection officers to help on security lines. Millions of Americans are expected to be traveling this Memorial Day weekend. Neffenger claimed that longer lines were produced by passenger numbers greater than forecast, staffing shortages, and changes to a program that had allowed people not signed up for background checks to use expedited security lines.
After federal auditors managed to take fake bombs and weapons past security screeners, the TSA tightened security procedures, adding to wait times. To help alleviate the situation, the Congress authorized the agency to hire 768 additional screeners. The number of passengers is estimated to be about 740 million this year, almost a million more than the 643 million last year. While the number of passengers has increased considerably, the number of screeners has declined from 47,147 in 2013 to 44,942 this year. Mr. Neffenger just this week replaced the agency’s top security official, Kelly Hogan who was the recipient of rather lavish bonuses. He also added a new group of administrators at Chicago's O'Hare International airport which has been plagued by long lines. As Mother Jones reports:On an uncharacteristically chilly Saturday earlier this month, travelers found themselves standing in line for more than two hours to get through security Chicago's O'Hare airport. A staggering 450 American Airlines travelers missed their flights. Dozens spent the night in the airport, and the incident brought national attention to increasingly long wait times.
Some critics claim the TSA is understaffed because it is busy providing security for presidential candidates during presidential primaries, but TSA officials deny this. Others blame lack of funding for the TSA. This does appear to be a factor. From 2012 to 2013 the TSA budget declined from $7.8 billion to $7.2 billion. The staffing budget declined every year from from 2012 to 2015.
Mr Neffenger urged travelers to enroll in TSA Precheck, an expedited screening process allowing passengers to keep on their shoes and to keep computers in their bags. Fewer people than expected have enrolled in the program. The TSA Screening Partnership Program allows airports to use screeners hired by private companies. Just 22 of about 450 commercial airports use private screeners, but this includes San Francisco International Airport. Some Republicans in Congress and airport executives want to replace TSA workers by private screeners. Critics of the idea point out that airports with private screeners are also experiencing longer wait times.
Democratic representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi warned against returning to what he called the pre-September 11 privatization model, whose failure to screen hijackers led to the creation of the TSA in the first place. Thompson said: “Congress and T.S.A. must resist Band-Aid fixes to complicated and well-understood aviation security challenges. Patching and plugging holes are not answers.”
The wait times are in many cases becoming so long that people miss their flights. American Airlines Group Inc. claims that it has had more than 70,000 customers and 40,000 checked bags miss flights because of delays in airport screening.One delay at O'Hare was so bad that American Airlines rolled out cots for stranded travelers.