Come prepared, don’t tote as much carry-on baggage and consider spending the time and money to enroll in the fast-lane program.
That’s the advice of Transportation Security Administration officials, who after revamping security checkpoints at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are now confronting wait times twice as long as before.
With no budget to hire additional personnel, even as airport traffic continues to rise, the TSA is calling on fliers to help ease the crunch.
“People need to pack patience and know they will have lots of company,” TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said. “This is what we are dealing with.”
As the spring break season moves into full swing followed by the heavy summer travel season, finding short lines at the airport will become a feat. Airlines are operating fewer flights at MSP, even as passenger totals are on the rise. Since 2010, the average number of people per flight rose from 75 to 91 last year. The upshot: With more people per flight, more travelers are trying to pass through the checkpoints at the same time.
TSA officials came to Minneapolis this week to market its PreCheck program in hopes of steering passengers out of general lanes and into lanes that provide expedited screening for low-risk travelers. The program allows passengers who pass a background check and pay $85 for a five-year period to bypass standard screening through special lanes that allow them to leave their shoes, belts and light jackets on. Laptops can remain in carry-on luggage, making passing through security faster.
“This is a way passengers can do something proactively at a minimal cost,” Dankers said. The special lanes require fewer staff members and “it increases our efficiency.”
Dankers said that there are no immediate plans to expand screening staff at MSP and that overtime will be used only when feasible. “That is not the case right now. This is the new norm.”
That’s why she said travelers should consider PreCheck. The program came online in 2013 and so far 2.1 million people have signed up nationwide. That includes about 48,000 who have registered at enrollment centers in Bloomington, Brooklyn Center and at the MSP airport. But that is a tiny fraction of the travelers that pass through security lines as MSP.
“I fly all the time,” said one PreCheck passenger on his way to Zurich. “It’s great and so much faster.”
On Tuesday, TSA administrator Peter Neffenger testified before the Senate Committee on Appropriations to ask for $7.6 billion for fiscal year 2017 fiscal year. That is an increase of $72.1 million over fiscal year 2016 and would be used to add staff to ensure effective screening operations and minimize wait times. “This funding will help to ensure that TSA maintains an appropriate staffing level at our checkpoints,” he said.
In the meantime, officials at MSP and the TSA say they are working to better direct people to the checkpoints and balance out the number of people using the North and South checkpoints. TSA last month consolidated six checkpoints into two — leaving the number of lanes the same. But since the change, wait times have stretched upward of 40 minutes at times.
Airport officials are trying to balance where to deploy staff to meet passenger demand. Ambassadors are identifying PreCheck passengers and pulling them from the general lanes.
For those in the general lanes, Dankers said passengers have to shoulder some of the blame for slower lines. They are bringing more carry on bags through security and that bogs things down. She encouraged passengers to consider checking bags. Another factor in lengthy wait times is that many travelers are unprepared for the screening process and unnecessarily hold up lines by bringing prohibited items to the checkpoint.
“These rules are not new and it’s time for people to take responsibility and bring things that are only allowed,” Dankers said. “TSA is not focused on getting people through quickly. They are focused on security. That is the priority and that will not change.”