News and notes from Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport

Hartsfield-Jackson's threat of privatizing security prompts talks with TSA

Hartsfield-Jackson International's threat that it could privatize security screening of passengers has already prompted conversations with the Transportation Security Administration to address long lines at checkpoints, according to the airport's general manager.

The problem of long security lines has grown over the last year, said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell.

"In the last two, three weeks, [wait times] could reach as high as 50, 52 minutes," Southwell said. "That's simply unacceptable."

As passenger counts increase at the world's busiest airport, "TSA simply is not reacting fast enough" to add staff, Southwell said Wednesday during remarks to the Atlanta city council's transportation committee.

But he said after conversations with TSA in the last week and a half, "We believe with the commitments we received, we should see... additional resources, including employees, canine teams" and new technology to process passengers.

Hartsfield-Jackson officials have been frustrated with understaffing at TSA security checkpoints and long wait times, according to a recent letter to the TSA. Airport officials fear that with no action, the lines could get even worse this summer.

In the Feb. 12 letter to TSA administrator Peter Neffenger obtained by Channel 2 Action News, Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell wrote that the airport is “giving serious consideration” to privatizing the security screening at the world’s busiest airport.

TSA, meanwhile, said its current budget, allocated by Congress, caps screener staffing at the same level as the previous year — the lowest level in five years. Meanwhile, passenger traffic through Atlanta airport security checkpoints has increased 15 percent year-over-year.

Southwell said private contractors may be able to use a greater share of part-time workers than TSA does to handle the fluctuations of passenger volumes through security checkpoints. TSA has a unionized workforce.

But he said that after conversations with TSA, "I believe we have the commitment that we were seeking," with plans for TSA to work with Hartsfield-Jackson to "provide as many employees as possible" in the next 30 to 60 days.

Southwell said he also hopes TSA in future years will be able to use technology to speed processing of passengers, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection has used technology to expedite Customs processing.


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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.