Officials announce plans to decrease Sea-Tac wait times

By:  Matt Markovich
Source: KOMO 4 News

SEATAC, Wash. -- In an effort to address long security lines at Sea-Tac Airport, Transportation Security Administration official Peter Neffenger and Senator Maria Cantwell announced changes Friday to decrease wait times over the busy summer months.

The plan calls for increasing the number of passenger screening canine units, as well as localized transportation security officer training and the temporary hiring of additional staff to take over non-critical duties of some TSA personnel.

Currently Sea-Tac is assigned five explosive sniffing dogs that patrol security lines. Two more canine units will be added for the summer, with a pledge to staff 10 at Sea-Tac full time. The training of each dog costs approximately $250,000 and an annual operation cost of $125,000 for each dog, according to a regional TSA security chief.

"I can essentially turn an entire line into an expedited screening line with a passenger screening canine," said Neffenger.

A typical lane can process 150 passengers per hour, while the TSA says it can process 250 passengers per hour with a canine.

The administrator says TSA plans to run up to 28 screening lines during peak hours during the summer with the addition of the dogs. Currently, a TSA official says there's enough staffing to run 21 screening lines at once. Sea-tac is equipped with 32 screening lines.

The administrator agreed to temporarily reinstitute local training of Transportation Security Officers rather than requiring them to travel to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center headquarters in Georgia. Senator Cantwell's office says the move will provide Sea-Tac with roughly 55 new TSOs by the end of June.

The Port of Seattle has approved the hiring of 90 temporary staff to assist with non-critical screening procedures at the checkpoints to allow current TSOs to focus on screening passengers and baggage. The Port has allocated $3.3 million to hire the staff between May 1st and January 7th 2017. The cost will be passed on to the airlines that use Sea-Tac.

The fear is Congress will see airports like Sea-Tac choosing to spend their own money to pick up the work that had been done by TSA and won't fund new positions in the future. Senator Cantwell says that's an argument for another day.

"The fact that he's ( TSA Administrator Neffenger) promising new canines and some have already arrived, promising new personnel that we can go up to 28 lanes by this summer is the kind is the kind of thing I want out of TSA" says Cantwell.

Sea-Tac is the fastest growing airport in the U.S. according to Cantwell's office. In 2015, 15.5 million passengers passed through its security checkpoints - an average of 41,000 passengers per day. Current projections estimate that roughly 50 million people will pass through Sea-Tac within the next two years.