Airlines say TSA fixes shrink O’Hare wait times to 15 minutes – Chicago Tribune
Security lines at O’Hare International Airport have dropped from more than two hours to about 15 minutes in the wake of TSA staffing fixes locally and this week’s ouster of the agency’s head of security.
Recent fixes in Transportation Security Administration staffing in the past week have helped drastically decrease wait times at O’Hare.
TSA faced heavy criticism last week for long lines at the nation’s airports, including waits of more than two hours May 14 at O’Hare that caused 450 people to miss their flights and dozens to sleep overnight at the airport. The agency has blamed a staffing shortage combined with higher passenger numbers.
TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger came Friday to Chicago to meet with local officials and expressed regret for the problem. The agency moved 100 part-time officers at Chicago airports to full-time status last week, brought in a new management team and four new canine units, which TSA officials say helped speed lines by sniffing passengers for explosives.
Another 58 TSA officers are expected to come to Chicago airports in the coming month.
This week, the TSA replaced its former head of security, Kelly Hoggan, who according to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform received more than $90,000 in bonuses from 2013 to late 2014.
A memo obtained by the Chicago Tribune sent by Neffenger on Monday does not name Hoggan, but does name his temporary replacement, Darby LaJoye. Neffenger called LaJoye an experienced federal security director with successful stints at two of the nation’s largest airports, Los Angeles International Airport in California and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
“His strong leadership and proven operational expertise have driven a renewed agency-wide focus on security effectiveness,” Neffenger said.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., wasn’t as impressed by the move.
“Administrator Neffenger may have found a scapegoat to blame for long wait times before Memorial Day but the flying public will hold TSA accountable,” Kirk said in a statement. “The cause and effect of mismanagement at TSA is a security risk for travelers and results in expensive missed flights. Americans have lost faith in the ability and commitment of the federal government to act on their best behalf, and the failures of TSA is another example of this sad reality.”
But representatives for American Airlines, United Airlines and the city’s department of aviation all reported shorter lines at O’Hare since Friday.
“Things are great,” said American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott, who has been outspoken in recent weeks about the long security lines. She said waits were down to about 15 minutes and no one has missed a flight due to a long line in the past few days. “We’re definitely trending in the right direction.”
Scott attributed the improvement to the canine units and additional full-time officers.
She said passengers also can take credit for arriving well before their flight times, and noted that they also may be better informed about what they need to do before they get into line. United and American also have hired additional staff to help with nonsecurity measures, such as reminding travelers to remove shoes and take laptops out of their bags.
Scott said the airline hopes the positive trend continues into the Memorial Day weekend rush, which starts Thursday; the weekend is one of the busiest flying times of the year.
Long lines at the nation’s airports have been blamed on several factors besides low-staffing — overly optimistic guesses of how many people would sign up for the PreCheck expedited screening program, checked baggage fees that encourage fliers to carry more things with them and heightened security measures.
TSA spokesman Michael McCarthy said the number of people signing up for PreCheck, which costs $85 for a background check and allows fliers to get into a shorter line, is up sharply. He said at this time last year, about 4,500 people daily signed up for PreCheck nationally; it’s now up to 10,000 per day.
McCarthy said the new management team at O’Hare was not intended to replace people, but to help people already there. Neffenger said in his memo that the team is supported by screening experts from throughout the country and has made “immediate adjustments” to improve lines.
Progress at the airports is being watched by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration. On Friday, Emanuel plans to release the first biweekly TSA Performance Report detailing the agency’s progress, with assistance from the major airlines.