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Wait Times Not Expected to Increase with More Airline Passengers

April 20, 2006

Wait Times Not Expected to Increase with More Airline Passengers
April 20, 2006 – The Miami Herald is reporting that even though there are expected to be more airline passengers this summer, the waits at security checkpoints should be about the same as last year.

Kip Hawley, director of the Transportation Security Administration, said travelers are moving through security more quickly because of a new policy allowing passengers to carry scissors less than 4 inches long and tools less than 7 inches long.

"The passenger volumes are increasing, but we’re seeing an 18 percent time savings because we’re not looking for small scissors and tools," Hawley said.

Last summer, U.S. airports saw about 175 million domestic passengers. The Air Transport Association said it expects air traffic this summer to increase only by 1 percent, if that, as airfares rise to keep up with soaring fuel costs.

"We’re not expecting it to be much crazier than last summer," said John Heimlich, the association’s chief economist.

Long waits have frustrated so many people in recent months that U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando, complained to Hawley in a letter last month and asked for TSA to pay for a pilot program that would allow private contractors — instead of security officers — to load baggage into explosive-detection machines. The change would free up more officers to screen passengers.

Hawley said TSA has not finished evaluating that request.

The long waits have been attributed to low staffing levels at TSA, causing the agency to open fewer checkpoint lanes than it otherwise could at peak times. In Orlando the agency is trying to hire 150 new part-time workers.

Airlines say they also suffer the consequences of long lines, at times delaying flights if passengers are stuck at the checkpoint.

"We certainly wish that TSA could staff appropriately, but the alternative is to suffer poor customer service," said Marilee McInnis, spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines. "We want our customers to have the best airport experience possible. The airport is doing the best it can to make that happen."

The Orlando International Airport officials pledged $18 million Wednesday for projects to cut the time passengers spend waiting in long security lines — a travel headache destined to heat up as the summer travel season approaches.

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