Sen. Chuck Schumer called on federal officials Sunday to increase the number of security screening dogs used at New York-area airports to help reduce passenger wait times ahead of the busy summer travel season.
At a news conference in midtown Manhattan Sunday night, Schumer said the Transportation Security Administration should deploy additional teams of trained security screening dogs to Kennedy and LaGuardia airports to cut wait times in half.
“The bottom line is that these canines can take a bite out of time,” Schumer said.
The Democratic senator’s recommendation comes as the federal agency faces increasing scrutiny over widespread delays in clearing passengers through security screening areas.
Schumer said the TSA already uses passenger screening dogs at the city’s airports and across the country to help reduce wait times. The dogs are trained to detect explosives or drugs on passengers and in their luggage, eliminating the need for travelers to take off their shoes, belts and coats to go through screening devices.
Nationally there are 997 federally trained canine security teams — 332 belong to TSA, while the remaining canine teams are used by state and local authorities at their discretion, Schumer said. He said some of those teams should be diverted to the airports during the summer travel rush.
Last week, officials at the Port Authority, which runs Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports, issued a letter to TSA officials threatening to privatize the passenger security screening process in response to widespread delays at each airport.
Port Authority officials said in the letter there were 253 occurrences of 20-plus-minute waits at Kennedy during a monthlong period from March 15 to April 15, compared with 10 instances a year earlier.
“The patience of the flying public has reached a breaking point,” Port Authority officials wrote in the letter.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said last week the delays have been caused in part by a 10 percent drop in the number of screeners nationwide.
The agency had reduced its workforce, anticipating that more travelers would sign up for the “PreCheck” screening program aimed at reducing lines, but so far only 9 million travelers have signed up for the program, well below the agency’s 25 million target.
Johnson said the agency plans to hire 800 additional agents in the coming months.
Schumer said he planned to fight for “a good proportion to come to New York.”
Schumer said TSA officials said they were “studying” his recommendation, but urged the agency to “act quickly,” as Memorial Day weekend approaches.