Officials at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are telling spring break travelers to arrive two hours early and for good reason. The airport is seeing near record passenger volume this month, with Friday St. Patrick's Day expected to be the busiest day of the season.
On Friday more than 45,500 travelers are projected to pass through security checkpoints, Cliff Van Leuven told the Metropolitan Airports Commission last week. Van Leuven is the Transportation Security Adminstration's Federal Security Director at the airport.
"It's going to be a busy spring break," Van Leuven said. "The airport is ready. We are fully staffed coming into spring break."
During the month of March, projections show 11 days in which more than 40,000 passengers will be screened. That compares with five days in 2016. The airport expects to screen 5 percent more travelers this year compared to last year, from 1.286 million in 2016 to 1.369 million this year.
The airport has the equivalent of 648 full-time screeners to handle the crush and it has enlisted an extra canine dog sniffing team to speed up the process. It's also using overtime to be sure lanes are fully staffed during peak periods, Van Leuven said.
Last year, just after a new 10-lane security checkpoint opened on Terminal 1's north end, heavy traffic volume and a shortage of screeners led to extremely long lines. At times, waits approached 70 minutes. This year, wait times have vastly improved, Van Leuven said.
During the six-day President's Day weekend in February when passenger volume was "unlike anything we've ever seen before," wait times exceeded 30 minutes or more just five times. "We do our best to stay in front of anticipated peak travel," Van Leuven said.
On an average day, 32,000 passengers pass through security at MSP. But during peak periods, that number swells. On Saturday, for example, projections show that more than 39,000 passengers are expected to fly, and that would be the busiest Saturday in a long time, he said.
Van Leuven attributes the huge growth on a robust travel economy.
Even with a full complement of screeners and 16 lanes to pass passengers through, Van Leuven still warns passengers to get to the airport at least two hours early.