DENVER — Get ready to pack your patience for the upcoming summer travel season.
Cutbacks at the Transportation Security Administration are causing long wait times in security lines. The situation has already been happening at Denver International Airport, where officials are warning travelers to arrive three hours before their flights instead of the customary two hours.
The TSA has been cutting back its staff for the past three years. It has lost 10 percent of its screeners at the same time air travel has grown by 9 percent. The result has been interminable lines and frustrated travelers.
On top of that, DIA is expecting record crowds this summer. July is forecast to be the busiest ever for the airport. In recent weeks, some passengers have been reporting wait times of more than one hour.
“The issue is man power. There are not enough TSA agents to handle the load of summer travelers,” said Bruce Schneier, a security expert.
The TSA has been increasing its hiring and training programs for security workers.
And this week, the head of Homeland Security, which includes the TSA, announced plans to add more security officers and dogs to help accelerate the screening process at the busiest airports this summer.
On Friday, a TSA spokesman said the agency has requested authority from Congress to move $34 million in funding to boost staff levels to reduce security wait times. The money would pay for additional overtime and part-time hours, and accelerated hiring of 768 new TSA officers.
But for some airports, the added security could be too little, too late.
“We’ve been staring at this iceberg awhile,” said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs at US Travel Association. “I am encouraged [with the latest move from Homeland Security], but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be challenging, especially in the early parts of the summer.”
But the TSA said adding more security isn’t a cure-all solution because many screening lanes at airports are already running at full capacity.
Passengers also need to play a part to help keep the lines moving. For example, taking off belts and jackets before getting to the front of the line, and wearing shoes that are easy to take off.