When flying out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this spring, arrive earlier or risk saying buh-bye to that flight to Cancun, Phoenix or New York.
The airport has added half an hour to the recommended amount of time to show up before a trip. Total: 2½ hours.
Several factors are bogging down passenger flow, airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said Wednesday. Air travel has increased as the economy has perked up and Minnesotans bolt for warmer climes. The number of federal agents checking passengers through security is down because of budget cuts. And airlines are clumping departures around early morning and early afternoon because that’s when passengers like to fly.
“Until we find a way to work with our partners to address the issue either by spreading out flights, increasing staff, reconfiguring checkpoints or all three, we’re going to see longer lines than we’d like,” Hogan said.
Traveling between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. can cut wait times at security, but that’s not a guarantee because of constantly shifting flight schedules and passenger loads.
Adding to the pressure is the airport’s design, which funnels passengers through multiple security points rather than one big one, which would allow for more staff flexibility and quicker service, Hogan said.
On Wednesday, DeeDee Lee pushed her 22-month-old son, Alex, in his stroller as they waited for her husband, Kevin, to return from parking the car before their 3:50 p.m. flight to Austin, Texas. The couple had arrived at 1 p.m., but at 1:40, Kevin Lee was still out because the main lot was full and he had to go to an overflow ramp.
“We missed a flight at Christmas out of Omaha because we were traveling during peak hours,” DeeDee Lee said.
Former Minnesota congressman Jim Oberstar, an internationally recognized aviation expert, was rolling his bags toward security just after noon. He said he aims to arrive at the airport two hours before flights. “You never know how long the lines are going to be,” he said.
Megan Teynor said she learned the hard way after nearly missing a flight to Miami a couple of months ago. She arrived 90 minutes early, but barely made it on board. “I just look at it as — if I want to get on a flight, that’s what has to be done,” she said. “I don’t like running and carrying luggage and getting on a plane all hot and sweaty.”
The Lindbergh Terminal 1 is the busier of the airport’s two terminals, but Hogan said lines are also getting longer at Humphrey Terminal 2, so passengers should get there early as well. Traffic through the Humphrey Terminal is up 20 percent this year, he said.
“Historically, this has been one of the better airports for waits at security,” he said. “This winter, we have seen this change.”
TSA ‘cuts across the board’
Hogan said the airport handled 6 percent more passengers this January than the same month last year. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) since late last year has been cutting costs by closing one of its eight checkpoints and trimming the hours for three others. Also, there are fewer staff members at the checkpoints that are operating, Hogan said.
Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman, said reductions in checkpoint staffing and operations in the Twin Cities are part of “cuts across the board” at airports nationwide and were made in consultation with the Metropolitan Airports Commission and the airlines.
However, she added, “any reductions in staff have been offset in efficiencies,” particularly implementation and promotion of the pre-check program. Going through pre-check cuts the time in line to mere minutes, she said.
Dankers said TSA has recorded only three instances this month when the wait time to clear security at MSP has topped 30 minutes. Those lasted 35, 36 and 42 minutes. She said she did not know how wait times are measured.
She said TSA records for March 19-25 show that 2.3 percent of the 250,000 passengers screened at both terminals had waits exceeding 20 minutes. That percentage represents 5,750 travelers over the weeklong period, or about 820 a day.
Courtney Shoemaker, on her way Wednesday to Palau in the western Pacific for a sky-diving trip, said she was unaware of the new recommendations but showed up at Terminal 1 about 2½ hours early anyway.
“I usually buffer a lot anyway, but that’s just too much time to be early,” Shoemaker said as she waited at one of two TSA checkpoints open at the time to the general public.
One option for a shorter wait is to enroll in TSA’s pre-check program, which sends travelers to a faster-moving security line. For details, visit www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck. Sign-up costs $85 and is good for five years.