(CNSNews.com) – An American Airlines official told a House Homeland Security subcommittee on Thursday that over 70,000 of its customers missed flights “year to date” because of excessively long wait times at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening checkpoints.
“Year to date, more than 70,000 American Airlines customers have missed flights due to excessive wait times. The same challenges at the passenger checkpoints bogged down screening of checked baggage, which is also a core TSA function. This year alone, over 40,000 checked bags were delayed in TSA screening and did not travel on their scheduled flight,” said Kerry Philipovitch, customer experience senior vice president for American Airlines.
“To say customers are agitated is putting it mildly, and the public outcry has resonated,” she said.
In her opening testimony, Philipovitch blamed the excessive wait times on the elimination of programs that had been enacted to “drive efficiency and increase security throughput” without “adding resources required to support longer passenger processing times.”
“The result is a screening process that’s causing unacceptably long security lines and a frustrated flying public,” she said.
Philipovitch said that discussions with the TSA revealed “three other contributing factors.”
“First, it appears TSA did not adjust its staffing model after screening protocols were changed. Second, TSA is experiencing abnormally high attrition and is not able to retain transportation security officers or TSOs. Third, the TSA Pre-Check program, which allows low-risk passengers to go through expedited screening has not met enrollment goals,” she said.
“All of these factors combined caused a systemic slowdown in passenger processing at security checkpoints, resulting in delays and missed flights,” Philipovitch said.
Congress gave TSA $34 million to hire more transportation security officers, also known as TSOs, by June 15, Philipovitch said.
“We are also glad to see that TSA is working to shift canine teams to airports experiencing the worst delays, rebalancing staffing and hiring more TSOs. However, TSA needs to do more, and more collaboration is needed to minimize the impact on summer travelers, airports, airline employees, and the overall economy,” she said.
For their part, airlines are “committing millions of dollars to fund non-security functions like bin-running and queue management so TSAs can focus solely on screening customers,” Philipovitch announced. “At American this summer, we are adding an additional $4 million on top of the $17 million already planned to spend this year to facilitate passengers through TSA checkpoints at our largest airports.”
Airlines have already advised customers to arrive two hours early for domestic flights and three hours earlier for international flights just so they can get through security, but that is “inconvenient and will likely affect less frequent travelers who are not familiar with the screening process,” Philipovitch said.
Therefore, American Airlines are aggressively promoting TSA-Pre-Check to its customers and employees, she said, but even as enrollment in the program increases, “TSA must commit to keep Pre-Check lanes open and sufficiently staffed throughout the day, especially during peak travel times.”
The airline industry is also looking for ways to “facilitate support for additional canine teams, including whether TSA can use certified canines from other governmental agencies to conduct passenger screening. When canine teams are deployed, TSA can increase passengers going through TSA Pre-Check,” Philipovitch added.