Thursday, May 18, 2017
Think the new SLO airport terminal means shorter security lines? Not so fast
Travelers hoping the new $39 million terminal at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport will mean less time in line may be disappointed — there are no plans to add a second security checkpoint.
The terminal, scheduled to open in October, promises four times more space and to “improve the flow of passengers.” A video touting the new terminal even shows two security lines. But a Transportation Security Administration spokesman told The Tribune that it doesn’t plan to add more staff to address long lines that often plague the current single security checkpoint.
“Right now, San Luis Obispo requires one lane, and we don’t expect that to change in the new terminal,” TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said. “If they get more flights, we can certainly work with the airport to accommodate their needs. At this point, we don’t expect a huge increase in staffing.”
Early morning and midday rushes involve long waits — and missed flights — and the problem is getting worse with more and more travelers using the airport. The industry responded to the growing Central Coast market with a new midday flight to Seattle that started in April, and flights to Phoenix shifted to larger planes that carry more passengers. In addition, an early morning flight to Denver will start in June.
A promotional video for the new county-run terminal appeared to address the concerns of frustrated air commuters, clearly showing travelers breezing through two security checkpoints in a mockup of the building under construction.
Airport Director Kevin Bumen confirmed Wednesday that the new terminal will open with a single security checkpoint because of the TSA’s staffing formula.
“We’re just not big enough,” Bumen said. “As we continue to grow, we will get there, but we’re not there yet.”
He acknowledged that some people have missed flights because they underestimated the time it would take to get through security.
“We have had people miss their flight that showed up much later than they should have and did not try to get to the front of line more expeditiously,” Bumen said.
He also said the terminal’s cramped quarters have caused travelers to wait outside or arrive late, tightening their window to navigate through security.
Bumen said improvements at the new terminal should make traveling through it easier — even without another security checkpoint.
A promotional video for the new terminal at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport shows the use of two security checkpoints for travelers, but officials have told The Tribune that there are only plans for one line when it opens in October.
The new terminal will include:
▪ A security checkpoint that is always open instead of one that closes periodically throughout the day.
▪ More room for the security area.
▪ A second line for TSA Precheck passengers (that will feed to the single checkpoint).
▪ A larger and improved waiting area with concessions on the other side of security that could inspire travelers to come early.
In addition, the X-ray machine that most travelers currently walk through security will be replaced this summer by a body scanner, which Melendez said is more efficient and faster.
All of that, officials say, will help relieve some of the pressure caused by the regular rush of travelers.
Still, while the new terminal will be much bigger and nicer than the decades-old building used now, flyers will still have to arrive earlier than they would normally expect for a small airport. Officials recommend arriving 90 minutes before a flight.