Solutions at Sea-Tac: Sen. Maria Cantwell visits Sea-Tac to address long security lines

By:  Natasha Chen
Source: KIRO 7 News

SEATAC, Wash. — Sen. Maria Cantwell met with national and local leaders Friday morning to develop solutions for long security lines at Sea-Tac International Airport, which have lately grown so onerous that more than 1,000 people missed their flights in March.

U.S. Transportation Security Administrator Peter Neffenger was among those at the Sea-Tac Airport meeting.
In the coming months:

  • The Port of Seattle will add about 90 contracted positions to help with non-security, like giving directions and collecting bins after they go through the scanner.
  • New Seattle TSA staff are being given priority for training classes to be able to fill the positions faster.
  • Further additional TSA staff can be trained locally rather than at the national training center, to speed up the process of adding personnel.
  • More dogs will be added to check people and bags in line. This will effectively turn the line into a precheck line, allowing passengers to move faster through the X-ray machine with shoes and belts on. Each additional dog allows for 100 more people to go through the lines each hour.
  • The Port of Seattle now has a centralized command center, with people stationed at each check point to determine when and where to move people to different lines.

Some changes were already made last week, including the addition of one dog, and the use of Port employees volunteering to answer questions and direct people. This change has seen a reduction in wait times already. The airport’s director, Lance Lyttle, said wait times even with 50,000 passengers was about 25 minutes this week. In March, there were reports of waits more than an hour.

Neffenger said TSA has already added 10 percent more staff at Sea-Tac Airport compared to this time last year.

There are now 840 full time employees, compared to 760 last year.

Across the nation, Neffenger said the TSA has 6,000 fewer people than it did five years ago. In addition, there were cuts looming.

“I’ve got back the 1,700 people I thought I was going to lose this year, I talked to Congress about adding additional staff. I’ve pushed additional staff into here already. So what you’re seeing is just the time it takes to now start building the system back to account for the growth that we currently have,” Neffenger said.

Sea-Tac Airport Director Lance Lyttle has indicated that he would consider other options in a worst-case scenario, such as privatizing the security checkpoints rather than using TSA.

But Lyttle said he is only focused on augmenting the current system at the moment.

“We are very encouraged by Administrator Neffenger’s commitment, and also his support from Senator Cantwell that we will be successful in getting this done,” he said. “Our objective is to get people moving through the checkpoints safely, securely and efficiently. When all is said and done, if that does not happen, then we’ll have to start looking at other options.”

The other options include privatization, as some other airports have done, but it also means looking at a different way of getting people through lines.

Lyttle suggested they could move X-Ray machines farther down from bag screening, so that people who are ready to walk through an X-Ray machine will move forward and do so quickly, rather than waiting for others who may still be putting items through the bag scanner.

Sen. Maria Cantwell said she would leave the privatization discussion to the local leaders.

“The good news is we have a good economy and good growth. The challenge is, that we have a small footprint airport – that we have to not only think about how we get through this process now without 90 minute waits, but to think about how we continue to grow,” Cantwell said.