TSA agent shortage creates travel nightmare across US

BySergio Quintana and Kristen Sze KGO logo
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
TSA agent shortage creates travel nightmare across US
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The summer crush of air travelers is on, and across the country, a TSA shortage has created enormous lines at some of the nation's largest airports.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The summer crush of air travelers is on, and across the country, a TSA shortage has created enormous lines at some of the nation's largest airports.

At Chicago O'Hare lines stretched on for three hours.

At SFO, the lines were more manageable.

"We haven't reached that point yet, but obviously we're prepared to take care of our customers if we encounter excessive wait times at our airport," said Doug Yakel, and SFO spokesperson.

San Francisco is one of a few U.S. airports that employs private security screeners instead of Transportation Security Agency, or TSA, agents to search passengers. The private security team is supervised by the TSA.

Other airports are looking at this model as long security lines continue to grow.

The TSA has also launched a program using dogs to help screen passengers in the security lines.

They'll be added to the compliment of San Francisco police dogs that already patrol terminals.

"TSA has a separate screening program. They use dogs that are within he screening lines and those dogs are for screening people, and that is to accelerate the screening process so they can move the lines more quickly," explained Department Chief Denise Schmitt with the SFPD.

As for the dogs, Schmitt has some advice for passengers.

"Don't reach out and pet the K9 as tempting as that may be because they are working dogs, whether they're our dogs or the TSA dogs," she said.

There are also a few other options to get through the security line faster.

The private CLEAR program allows passengers to jump to the front of the line by using their pre-screened profile and a finger print.

And the federal TSA pre-check program allows passengers to keep their shoes and belts on when they go through the metal detectors.

Both are available for a fee.

Homeland Security is planning to hire nearly 800 screeners, but they need to be trained and that could take time.

Senator Charles Schumer is calling these wait time outrageous and wants more dogs to be trained for passenger screenings. He says K9 explosive detection teams could help speed up security by checking cargo and luggage for any explosives.

"Passenger screening K9's can do an amazing job because when you have a passenger screening K9 it's like pre-check, where you don't have to take of your coat or your belt or your shoes because they can smell any explosives that might be on you. And it will speed things dramatically," said Schumer.

Schumer says passenger screening dogs could cut wait times in half. The Transportation Security Administration already has about 900 dog teams working in airports across the country.

There are some travel tips to help passengers avoid the long lines.

San Jose International says to avoid traveling during peak hours, which are 5 a.m. to 7 am. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oakland has similar hours, and says mornings have the longest lines.

Both airports also recommend avoid traveling on peak days, which are Sundays, Mondays and Fridays, plus Thursday evenings before a long weekend.

Also, arrive early. Instead of 90 minutes, you should now arrive 2 hours before a domestic flight and 3 hours before an international flight.

Another tip is to check the security wait times at your airport before you go. Check out the TSA's webpage for that.

Finally, some airports have posted signs asking travelers to contact the TSA to hire more staff.