The largest airline at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is so worried about long lines at security checkpoints that it has offered up workers at no cost to the federal government.
Delta Air Lines is willing to assign some staffers at its major hubs to help the U.S. Transportation Security Administration fulfill any airport tasks that don’t require a badged agent in an effort to shorten lines, airline Chief Executive Ed Bastian says.
The offer from Delta comes as airlines and airports fear that long lines seen earlier this year will return with rising passenger volumes during the summer months.
“The customers don’t distinguish security when coming through the airport between Delta and TSA,” Bastian said during a recent media event at Delta’s Atlanta headquarters. “Security is something that, in our opinion, is a joint responsibility of both TSA and the airline, and we will do our share to help.”
Delta has also provided the agency with engineers who are “looking at queuing design and giving recommendations” to speed them up, Bastian said.
Airports around the U.S. are facing abnormally long lines as the number of TSA agents drops and the number of air travelers rises.
Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport has about 650 screeners, or about 75 fewer officers than three years ago, according to airport executives. Over the same time, passenger volume jumped 7 percent, or by about 2.8 million passengers annually. Delta and its affiliates dominate the airport, carrying more than 70 percent of those passengers.
With peak summer travel just around the corner, U.S. airports and airlines are bracing for the worst.
American Airlines issued a scathing statement last month blaming the TSA for causing major delays and missed flights for its passengers. But Bastian said criticism alone isn’t helpful.
“While I guess it is good to draw attention to the topic, I think it is much more important to do something about it than just complain about it, and that’s exactly what we are doing,” he said.
Delta is also purchasing a 5 percent stake in Clear, a biometric identification technology company that allows users to jump to the front of the TSA PreCheck line. Delta will soon be able to offer a discount to the airline’s loyalty program members and its diamond-level customers will get the service for free, Bastian said.
The program is expected to roll out at all Delta’s major hubs, including MSP, by the summer.
Officials from TSA could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Earlier this year, TSA and officials from the Metropolitan Airports Commission hailed the consolidation of six checkpoints at Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) into two. The number of checkpoint lanes remained the same at 16, but there weren’t enough TSA screeners to handle the influx of sun-starved travelers during the spring break period in March.
Wait times stretched to an hour or more in some cases, and many passengers took to social media to vent.
Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota’s congressional leaders and the MAC wrote letters to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger to express their frustration. Neffenger visited the airport in March and promised to pay more overtime to screeners and add additional help from canine teams.
Other airports experienced similar wait-time woes, including the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s biggest and Delta’s home airport.
Last week, the Port Authority of New York suggested that it may hire a private security force to replace TSA screeners at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports. “We can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of the TSA passenger services,” the letter said.
In a statement Wednesday, MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan said, “We applaud Delta Air Lines’ efforts to make security checkpoint operations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as efficient as possible.
“Long term, the TSA must hire more screeners to handle the increase in travelers and carry-on bags,” Hogan said. In the interim, he added, the MAC, airlines and TSA must work together “to make the most of the resources we have.”
Passengers traveling from MSP are advised to check in at minimum two hours before a domestic flight, and 2½ hours for an international flight.
The trade group Airlines 4 America says the number of passengers nationwide has climbed for the sixth consecutive year, and the wait for many travelers at TSA airport checkpoints has nearly doubled in just the last year. Passenger volumes are forecast to exceed 2015’s peak by 3 percent.
The trade group noted there’s no reliable resource allowing travelers to know what the TSA wait times are before they arrive at the airport. If travelers encounter an unusually long line, they should alert TSA by tweeting their airport code or location to @AskTSA detailing the issue, as well as the hashtag #IHateTheWait.