Patience sought as airport security lines grow

Scott Mayerowitz
Associated Press

Washington – — Facing a growing backlash over extremely long airport security lines, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Friday asked fliers “to be patient” as the government takes steps to get them onto planes more quickly.

Travelers across the country have endured lengthy lines, some snaking up and down escalators, or through food courts, and into terminal lobbies. At some airports, lines during peak hours have topped 90 minutes. Airlines have reported holding planes at gates to wait for passengers to clear security.

Johnson said the government has a plan to deal with the lines, although travelers should expect to wait as they travel this summer. Whatever the plan, Johnson said, TSA won’t neglect its duty to stop terrorists.

“Our job is to keep the American people safe,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference. “We’re not going to compromise aviation security in the face of this.”

The Transportation Security Administration has fewer screeners and has tightened security procedures. Airlines and the TSA have been warning customers to arrive at the airport two hours in advance, but with summer travel season approaching even that might not be enough.

Airlines are expecting a record number of fliers this summer, meaning more passengers and bags to screen. Johnson said TSA is working with airlines to enforce limits on carry-on bags and their size. Passengers often over-pack carry-ons to avoid paying the $25 checked bag fee most airlines charge.

The TSA still scans checked luggage. And even that might not ease checkpoint problems. On Thursday, a video surfaced of giant lines at Chicago’s Midway airport. Southwest Airlines — which is the only U.S. airline that doesn’t charge for checked bags — is the predominant airline at Midway.

In the past three years, the TSA and Congress cut the number of front-line screeners by 4,622 — or about 10 percent — on expectations that an expedited screening program called PreCheck would speed up the lines. However, not enough people enrolled for TSA to realize the anticipated efficiencies.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told the Associated Press Thursday that “the longer lines get, the more passengers are going to miss flights and there’s not much you can do about that.”

PreCheck gives previously vetted passengers special screening. Shoes, belts and light jackets stay on. Laptops and liquids stay in bags. And these fliers go through standard metal detectors rather than the explosive-detecting full-body scanners.