The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is sending more bomb-sniffing dogs — and bomb-detecting people, too — to Chicago’s O’Hare International and Midway airports to reduce the long lines at security checkpoints, the agency said late Tuesday.
At least one member of Congress, however, is already baying for the TSA administrator’s head if things don’t improve fast.
Five additional canine teams are on the way, the first of which has already arrived at Midway Airport, the agency said in a statement. The rest are expected to be in place by the weekend, allowing the agency to screen an additional 5,000 passengers per day. These should help double the number of passengers who can go through expedited screening lines, the agency says.
The TSA is also converting 100 part-time officers to full-time, adding 58 officers, and tripling the use of overtime, including adding morning shifts, to move passengers along in the Windy City. The agency again urged people to sign up for TSA Pre✓, an expedited screening process for people who qualify.
The moves come in response to delays that have caused thousands of passengers to miss their flights. O’Hare’s website says the TSA is now urging people to arrive three hours before their flights.
The TSA says it’s trying to cope with record numbers of travelers while also keeping them safe. The agency is responsible for screening travelers and baggage for more than 1.8 million passengers a day at 450 airports, Department of Homeland Security inspector general John Roth told Congress last year. On Monday, the TSA screened more than 88,000 passengers, compared to more than 78,000 on the previous Monday, the agency said.
But that’s small consolation to thousands of passengers who have had to spend the night in airport terminals. Members of Congress have accused the agency of bungling, with some arguing that the agency should have planned better for the expected crush.
Airlines for America was anticipating record numbers of passengers this spring and urged the TSA to staff up to handle the crush. A4A, as the industry association is also known, said an estimated 140 million passengers would take to the skies in March and April alone, up 3 percent from peak levels last year.
It’d be one thing if the long lines were something people have to endure to ensure being safe. But the agency has had trouble getting its act together in areas related to its key mission. In recent years, agency watchdogs have documented that undercover security operatives managed to smuggle 67 illegal weapons or simulated bombs past TSA security on 70 tries last year, that TSA officials were unable to properly vet 73 aviation employees who had links to terrorism, thereby allowing them access to secure areas, and that senior managers have a long history of bullying whistleblowers who identify potential problems.
On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) called on TSA Administrator Peter V. Neffenger to resign if the long wait times at airports such as O’Hare and Midway are not resolved by Memorial Day.