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

Long airport security lines gain national attention

Long security lines have quickly become a national issue.

Lengthy security wait times are plaguing Hartsfield-Jackson International and airports across the nation, including in Denver, Chicago, New York and Seattle.

A union that represents Transportation Security Administration officers is pushing for emergency funding to hire 6,000 more screeners to alleviate the lines.

Hartsfield-Jackson is already getting 158 more TSA workers to handle big crowds, a roughly 13 percent increase. The hiring process has begun but it will take weeks to hire all of the workers and fully train them.

Nationally, TSA plans to hire more officers and increase overtime, after recently getting Congressional approval to shift $34 million in the Department of Homeland Security's budget to the TSA to allow the hiring of close to 800 additional officers.

The 6,000 officers the American Federation of Government Employees union is calling for would be a 14.3 percent increase from the current 42,000 TSA officers. The number of officers has fallen from 47,000 in 2013, according to the union, while passenger counts have increased 15 percent.

"Congress has starved TSA of the resources it needs to meet growing demands at our nation's airport," said the union's national president in a written statement.

TSA administrator Peter Neffenger testified at a Congressional hearing on Thursday that TSA has put a priority on fixing security shortfalls in detecting prohibited items and has had problems with insufficient staffing.

"We do not have enough people currently to staff our lines," Neffenger said.

But some members of Congress are also concerned about a history of mismanagement as a cause of problems at TSA.

With the sharp focus on the agency, others have also offered suggestions about how to fix the problem of long airport security lines.

The American Association of Airport Executives in a statement Friday said the $34 million shift in funding is a step in the right direction, "but it is clear that more needs to be done quickly to address what is becoming a serious headache and worry for travelers." The group suggested deploying more officers from other functions like behavior detection to screening duty, and ensuring consistent hours for TSA PreCheck expedited screening lines.

U.S. Senators Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., this week called on U.S. airlines to stop charging checked baggage fees this summer to reduce carry-on bags and speed security lines.

The U.S. Travel Association in a statement Friday said "it is not an overstatement to call the TSA situation a national crisis, and fixing it needs to be a national priority."


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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.