A messy security checkpoint situation at Denver International Airport could get much worse under a potentially record-breaking crush of summer travelers, say officials who are urging passengers to get to the hub three hours before their flights.
The Transportation Security Administration has shed nearly 10 percent of its screeners in the past three years, a period in which air travel has grown 9 percent. The result: interminable lines filled with frustrated fliers at DIA and airports across the country.
"I think the perfect storm right now is that capacity definitely outpaces the TSA ability for screening," said Gregory Feith, a Colorado-based aviation safety consultant. "It's probably going to get worse unless staffing is increased."
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said last week he is "acutely aware" of the delays and that TSA has made solving the problem a priority. The agency has cleared more overtime pay, is racing to hire new officers and is increasing the use of canines trained to detect explosives.
Johnson also said he will petition Congress for more money to expand the number of airport screeners working during peak hours.
The TSA issued this statement to Denver7:
"TSA's primary focus is the current threat environment, as the American transportation system remains a high value target for terrorists. Our strong economy means air carriers are enjoying record travel volume, which is resulting in heavier than normal volumes of travelers at our nation’s airports – some with double digit increases over last summer. In addition to arriving at U.S. airports up to two hours prior to departure, we encourage travelers to enroll in TSA Pre?® or other trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry, Nexus, or SENTRI, which improve security and reduce wait times. TSA is addressing the growing volume of travelers, with measures including more canine use, overtime, and accelerated hiring. We are appreciative that our airline partners are working with us by asking travelers to arrive at the airport as much as two hours early for domestic flights, which will help to alleviate some of the expected summer congestion. Traveler security is TSA’s first priority and we remain intensely focused on our important mission."
Here are average security checkpoint wait times at DIA so far this year:
- January: 11 minutes. Volume of passengers screened compared to January 2015: 8.7 percent increase.
- February: 14 minutes. Volume of passengers screened compared to February 2015: 11.8 percent increase.
- March: 12 minutes. Volume of passengers screened comparted to March 2015: 3.2 percent increase.
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