17th May 2016
The TSA’s notorious checkpoint delays were so bad at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport over the weekend that an airline had to set up cots for its fliers.
“We held 30 flights [on Sunday], and 450 passengers missed their flights because of TSA delays,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein told The Post.
“This weekend was probably the worst since spring break,’’ said the rep, whose airline was forced to put out about 100 cots for stranded customers. “Our concern is the summer, which is spring
break every day from June till September.’’
A federal source blamed the nightmare weekend on the Transportation Security Administration’s long-standing issues of too little manpower combined with a seasonal surge in air traffic.
“All major hubs are sitting ducks for outrageous lines at any given moment in time,’’ the source warned.
Travelers were advised to arrive at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international take-offs — but fliers griped that even that wasn’t enough for them to get through security in time.
The lines were so long at one terminal that American Airlines workers had to remove some kiosks just to make room for the throngs.
“People were breathing heavy and freaking out,’’ said Chicago resident Christina Jack, 54, who arrived from O’Hare into LaGuardia Airport in Queens on Monday.
“There was a gentleman near me who started panicking and yelling, ‘I’m going to miss my flight! I’m going to miss my flight!’ They pulled him out and put him right up at the front of the short line.”
“I was lucky, I missed the early-morning rush,’’ she said, noting that it took her “just’’ a little more than two hours to wade through security.
American and other airlines say they are hiring extra workers to do whatever they can to move things along themselves, such as using employees to run empty metal-detector bins back up to the
front of the line.
The federal source said airports’ wait time “depends on the changing demand of flights on any given day in these hubs.”
They include LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports, which all, the TSA admitted last week, had increased wait times since last year.
A total of around 4,000 American passengers have already missed their flights because of TSA delays since February, including 800 in the past week alone, the airline said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Sunday urged the TSA to beef up its airport canine patrols, which could help process twice as many passengers an hour, proponents say.
The move is one of several that the beleaguered agency hopes to use to ease the situation.
Outcry over the delays prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to beg fliers last week to “be patient’’ as the government tries to speed up the screening by also paying overtime and hiring more workers.
In the past three years, the feds cut the number of screeners by 4,622, or about 10 percent, in the hopes that passengers would use an expedited screening program called PreCheck.
But as of this spring, only a little more a third of the anticipated 25 million fliers actually enrolled in the program — and Johnson said it would likely take four more years to reach the TSA’s goal.
Congress did just allocate an additional $34 million for extra TSA staffing, which includes the hiring of 768 more screeners, bringing the total to 42,525. But the president of the union representing TSA officers has said an additional 6,000 are needed.
Meanwhile, airlines say they are expecting a record number of fliers this summer.