The Port Authority is demanding that the Transportation Security Administration beef up staffing to ease growing security lines at the authority’s metropolitan-area airports, warning it may seek to contract with a private company if wait times do not improve.
Newark Liberty, Kennedy and LaGuardia airports have experienced “abysmal” TSA security line wait times in 2016, a letter to TSA from Port Authority aviation director Thomas Bosco and authority chief security officer Thomas Belfiore says, adding “the patience of the flying public has reached a breaking point.”
Passenger wait times at Port Authority airports, the May 4 letter to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger reads, have “risen dramatically in recent months, prompting angry complaints from passengers, terminal operators and airlines alike,” resulting in delayed flights and missed connections.
A TSA spokeswoman said Tuesday in a statement that the agency “will respond directly to the Port Authority.”
On Monday the TSA urged travelers at the three airports to apply to its pre-check program to expedite the screening process. The authority noted in its letter that only 9 million of the TSA’s projected 25 million travelers have enrolled in that program.
Pre-check is offered by 12 airlines at 160 participating airports, according to TSA, and those passengers go through a separate security line. Participating travelers don’t have to remove shoes or light jackets or take laptops and liquids out of their bags when they go through security checkpoints. Five years of access to TSA pre-check costs $85, and those with a criminal history may be disqualified.
In a news release Tuesday morning, the TSA said it will hold a media event Thursday at Newark Liberty to “illustrate the difference between passengers who are prepared for security screening and those who are not.” With a busy summer travel season on tap, the TSA said, “checkpoint lines are going to be long.”
“TSA will set up a working security lane with volunteer passengers to show the difference in the amount of time it takes a group of passengers who arrive at the checkpoint prepared for screening versus a second group of passengers who are not prepared,” the agency said. “Bring a stopwatch and record the difference in the amount of time it takes the two groups to get through the checkpoint. You just may be surprised at the impact.”
The TSA spokeswoman, Lisa Farbstein, said the timing of the demonstration is coincidental.
At Kennedy Airport from March 15 to April 15, there were 253 occurrences of waits longer than 20 minutes versus 10 in the same time period a year ago, the Port Authority said. The airport’s average wait period was up 82 percent in that time period in 2016, from an average 11.5 minutes in 2015 to 20.9 minutes in 2016, the letter said.
The letter also addressed the economic impact the three airports have on the regional economy. As summer approaches, the Port Authority said, “we are concerned that further increases in screening point wait times will only exacerbate customer dissatisfaction, pushing passengers to opt for alternate modes of transportation or cancel their travel plans outright.”
After suggesting several ways the TSA could leverage its workforce and contractual employees to mitigate growing wait times, the Port Authority said in the meantime it is exploring possibly participating in TSA’s Screening Partnership Program — which contracts security screening services at commercial airports to private companies — “to enhance flexibility in the assignments and operating hours of front line screening staff.”
The program is in place at 22 airports, the busiest of which is San Francisco International, according to the agency’s website. In the program, private security companies run screening operations under federal oversight, and have to comply with all TSA procedures, the agency said.
Wait times at TSA screening points/JFK
March 15 - April 15, 2015
Waits longer than 20 minutes: 10
Average wait: 11.5 minutes
Absolute maximum wait: 30 minutes
March 15 - April 15, 2016
Waits longer than 20 minutes: 253
Average wait: 20.9 minutes
Absolute maximum wait: 55 minutes
Source: Port Authority