Vanessa Jackson was already nervous about making her first flight in more than a decade, and waiting in an extremely long slow-moving line to get through security Friday morning at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport didn’t make the experience any easier.
She was in the back of the line, which at 5:30 a.m. stretched from the new checkpoint on the terminal’s north end to escalators in the middle of the lobby, around them and back toward the checkpoint to avoid merging with a line for the south checkpoint in the opposite direction that was just a few feet away.
“This is crazy,” said Jackson, who was trying to make a 6:40 a.m. flight on Spirit Airlines. “I told [the desk agent] I was going to Chicago, and she said ‘good luck.’ I asked why, and she said ‘I don’t know if you’ll make it to your gate.’ ”
Since the TSA last week consolidated six screening checkpoints into two in an effort to speed up the security process and make it more efficient, the move has brought complaints, frustration and longer lines. Indeed wait times sometimes have been twice as long as normal, the TSA confirmed.
The number of lanes was supposed to stay the same — at 16 — but not all of them have been used. On Friday, only seven of the 10 lanes in the north checkpoint were in service. That left many passengers Friday morning sweating it out as some wait times stretched to 47 minutes, said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.
Nor is relief expected soon. Airport officials say travelers should expect such waits until the end of March when spring break travel should start to subside. Until then, airport officials have advised travelers to arrive at least two hours early to allow enough time to park, print boarding passes, check baggage and pass through security screening.
“I’ve never seen a line like this before,” said Stephanie Declercq, of Lansing, Mich., who was on her way to Las Vegas and hoping for luck to roll her way. “Detroit is not this bad. Washington, D.C., is not this bad. I would hate to see what it was like before it was efficient if this is efficient.”
Others took to social media to express their displeasure.
“Admit that your change to the security screening is WRONG. Change it back,” read one tweet.
“Sounds like you have really screwed up security,” tweeted Michael Hess. “It used to be pretty efficient and long waits were rare. Bravo.”
Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said a trio of ingredients has come together to cause things to bog down. For one, the airport and the TSA are still working to figure out how to set up the queue lines in the new north area and get passengers into the proper pre-check and general traveler lines.
Second, the number of screeners has not kept pace with the burgeoning passenger load. Traffic at MSP is up 4.5 percent over last year, with about 38,000 passengers passing through screening each day. Yet no additional screeners have been added.
Both here, and nationwide, TSA has not seen any staffing growth and is at its lowest level in five years, Dankers said.
Adding to the problem, TSA screeners have tightened security procedures and are spending additional time screening aviation workers.
It’s also reduced the number of passengers who are not fully vetted in precheck lanes, sending more travelers into the general lanes.
“TSA is doing the things we need to do to make it safe to travel, but passenger growth, coupled with enhanced security measures at the checkpoint, will continue to impact operations and wait times,” Dankers said.
Hogan noted airlines are starting to use bigger planes, meaning more people are trying to pass through screening at the same times.
“The lines are certainly longer than we’d want,” Hogan said.
On Friday, the busiest times at MSP were from 5 to 7 a.m., 1 to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m., Dankers said.
To help travelers, the airport has dispatched volunteers and contract employers wearing yellow vests to point travelers in the right direction. Some, like metro area resident, Kayta, who didn’t give her last name, and her 3-year-old son, Max, just came prepared to wait and not have to worry. She got to the airport 2½ hours early for her 7:50 a.m. flight.
“Hopefully we’ll make it in 2 hours,” she said. “I’m not worried yet. Check in with me later.”
She made her flight. So did Jackson, Declercq and a man from Rochester, Minn., who switched security lines and scooted in the door of his Phoenix-bound jet just as gate agents made last call.