Saturday, April 29, 2017
Tight federal budget could mean long security lines at John Glenn airport
By Marla Rose
The Columbus (OH) Dispatch
A TSA officer helps travelers through security at John Glenn Columbus International Airport. A hoped-for additional body scanner, to speed the security process, now isn't expected to materialize for the airport.
Could this summer see the return of very long security wait times at airports?
Columbus airport officials say the Transportation Security Administration has informed them that they won’t be getting another body scanner they were counting on to alleviate congestion at Concourse C at John Glenn Columbus International Airport.
Tighter budgets in Washington could mean airports around the country could face security backups and delays going into the busy summer season, the chief executive of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority told the group’s board of director’s this week.
“We’re going to start lobbying,” said Elaine Roberts, CEO of the airport authority, at the group’s monthly board meeting.
She said the airport will make its case to the local congressional delegation to see if they might be able to help. Typically, a full-body scanner can cost about $250,000.
John Glenn airport has invested about half a million dollars to construct space for additional security lanes for the C concourse, which is used primarily by Delta Air Lines. It appears that the space will be ready within the coming
days, but a fourth lane won’t be opened without another scanner from the TSA.
At busy times such as the 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. “morning rush,” there sometimes have been waits of more than half an hour to pass through the C checkpoint. On a few extraordinary occasions, the wait has approached an hour.
It was a TSA “headquarters decision” that determined Columbus’ need for a scanner was not urgent, said Rod Borden, chief operating officer for the airport authority. The equipment has been diverted to another airport, he was told.
Borden said local and regional TSA leadership has agreed with local airport officials who say there is a pressing need to open another checkpoint at John Glenn.
Also sidelined for now is the hope to add another scanner for Concourse A, served by Southwest Airlines, where there already is room to add a lane.
The one piece of equipment Columbus is getting in the short term is another X-ray baggage scanner for the much-smaller Rickenbacker airport, where Allegiant Air has been ramping up service.
Airport officials, airlines and travelers all want to avoid a replay of last spring, when hours-long security waits at some top airports across the country made headlines. Last year was a record one for travel on U.S. airlines, and this year is on pace to surpass it.
Last year’s lines eased after weeks of widespread negative publicity. The airlines urged consumers to press for more TSA resources by posting complaints on social media using the hashtag #IHateTheWait.
For the TSA’s part, they say they’re working on bringing more equipment to John Glenn.
“The current budgetary environment is challenging for the both the TSA and other federal agencies,” said Mike England, a regional spokesman for the TSA, in a statement to The Dispatch.
“We are continuing our efforts to bring additional equipment to CMH (the airport code for John Glenn) and will continue to work with our airline and airport partners to ensure our checkpoints work as safely and efficiently as possible.”
He declined to respond to further questions on the topic.
Borden said the airport is “looking at all the options now” to be able to get the needed equipment to open a fourth security lane for Concourse C.
“I get that we need to balance security needs across the whole system,” Borden said. “But at the moment, the TSA is just not procuring additional equipment.”
In the meantime, Borden suggests that passengers continue to allow ample time to get to the airport and make their way through security, particularly if they’re traveling in the early-morning hours on weekdays.
George Hobica, a travel expert and founder of the webiste AirFareWatchdog.com, also suggests that travelers sign up for TSA’s PreCheck program, which gives faster access through security for those who register and pay the $85 fee for five years.
“Passengers can help,” he said. “They can check a bag — it’s free on Southwest — rather than requiring security to scan them. They should triple-check that they’re not trying to carry on disallowed items, and make sure to take things out of their pockets before screening. If everyone followed the rules to the letter ... the lines would move faster.”