- REUTERS/Chip East
If you’ve been annoyed by long airport security lines, you aren’t alone.
Airports are apparently just as unhappy about it.
Last week, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey suggested it would replace the US Transportation Safety Administration with private contractors if it did not improve its “abysmal” performance.
The Port Authority’s letter to the TSA echoes sentiments expressed in a similar letter in February by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the nation’s busiest airport.
The Port Authority, which operates the JFK International and LaGuardia airports in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, is urging the TSA to increase resources for its security-screening services.
According to the letter, signed by from Port Authority aviation director Thomas Bosco and chief security officer Thomas Belfiore, security checkpoints at the New York area airports are painfully understaffed with no sign of improvement in sight.
Wait times at TSA checkpoints have “risen dramatically in recent months, prompting angry complaints from passengers, terminal operators, and airlines alike citing inconvenience, delayed flights, and missed connections,” the two wrote.
According to the Port Authority, the average maximum wait time at JFK from March 15 to April 15 increased 82% from the same period last year. For the year, the absolute maximum wait time is 55 minutes – up from 30 minutes in 2015.
“The experience at Newark and LaGuardia has been similarly abysmal, and the patience of the flying public has reached a breaking point,” Bosco and Belfiore said. “Given the adverse customer service and economic impacts, we can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of TSA passenger screening services.”
The TSA issued a statement to Business Insider saying in part that its “primary focus is the current threat environment, as the American transportation system remains a high-value target for terrorists.”
In his February letter, Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell voiced his concern over the lack of available screeners for the coming summer travel season.
The Port Authority shares Southwell’s unease over the lack of staffing.
“With the peak, summer travel season approaching,” Bosco and Belfiore wrote, “We are concerned that further increases in wait times will only exacerbate customer dissatisfaction.”
Though Bosco and Belfiore acknowledged that the TSA is working under a congressional cap on the number of available screeners, they urge the agency to more efficiently allocate existing resources and offer more staffing flexibility for on-the-ground supervisors.
In the meantime, the Port Authority is exploring the possibility of bringing in private security contractors under TSA’s Screening Partnership Program.
Hartsfield-Jackson, the busiest airport in the world, has indicated that it is also considering the use of private-security personnel.
The TSA is in receipt of the letter dated May 4, but it declined to publicly respond to the Port Authority’s complaints. A TSA representative did, however, issue the following statement:
TSA’s primary focus is the current threat environment, as the American transportation system remains a high value target for terrorists. Our strong economy means air carriers are enjoying record travel volume, which is resulting in heavier than normal volumes of travelers at our nation’s airports – some with double digit increases over last summer. In addition to arriving at U.S. airports up to two hours prior to departure, we encourage travelers to enroll in TSA Pre✓® or other trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry, Nexus, or SENTRI, which improve security and reduce wait times. TSA is addressing the growing volume of travelers, with measures including more canine use, overtime, and accelerated hiring. We are appreciative that our airline partners are working with us by asking travelers to arrive at the airport as much as two hours early for domestic flights, which will help to alleviate some of the expected summer congestion. Traveler security is TSA’s first priority and we remain intensely focused on our important mission.