Cantwell Announces Plan to Reduce Airport Security Wait Times, Increase Efficiency

Senator: canine teams and local training for busy summer months

SEATTLE, WA – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) joined Transportation Security Administrator Peter Neffenger, Sea-Tac Airport Director Lance Lyttle, and Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton today to announce plans to reduce long wait times at Sea-Tac International Airport by localizing Transportation Security Officer (TSO) training, temporarily hiring additional staff, and increasing the number of canine units. The additional resources will increase the number of screenings per hour as well as increase the number of lanes available for screening.

“Sea-Tac is the fastest growing airport in the United States - and this increase in passengers is good for our economy, but it shouldn’t mean that we have to increase wait times during peak travel,” said Cantwell, the ranking member on the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation. “More canine teams, more local training, more lanes being open, and more hires… [can help Sea-Tac] stay ahead of the curve. We will also need a long term fix to address the unacceptable wait times, and cope with ever-growing passenger traffic.”

“We are graduating nearly 200 new officers each week – who are frontloaded to airports with the greatest need, Sea-Tac is one of those. I’ve also authorized additional local training wherever necessary to meet staffing needs and I’ve shifted canine teams to the highest volume airports to assist with passenger screening, in the case of Sea-Tac we’ve added one additional team already and we’re bringing two more in for the summer months,” said Transportation Security Administrator Peter Neffenger. “At Sea-Tac we’ve seen double digit passenger growth in passenger volume over the past two years. For example today we are expecting to screen 50,000 passengers…that is an absolute testament to the strength of the economy, the health of this region, and the health of the airlines who service it.”

“Thanks to Senator Cantwell who has been an absolute champion over the years on port issues. She’s been an advocate for critical issues of trade and transportation for our state – so thank you Senator for coming here today and putting a focus on this important issue,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton.

Temporarily reinstituting local training of TSOs (rather than requiring them to travel to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center headquarters in Georgia) will allow Sea-Tac to reduce its backlog of training which has contributed to only 16-19 of 32 available security lanes to be open at peak times. This localized training – which Cantwell recently secured from TSA – will provide Sea-Tac with roughly 55 new TSOs by the end of June.

Additionally, Sea-Tac is temporarily hiring staff to assist with administrative functions at checkpoints during peak times in order to immediately free TSOs to focus on their core mission of screening passengers and baggage. With the combination of localized training and temporary staff, Sea-Tac expects to be able to operate roughly 28 of 32 security lanes during peak times.

Lastly, Cantwell has secured a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016 to update federal security programs to increase the presence of federal agents with bomb-sniffing canines at non-secure areas such as check-in and baggage claim areas. A typical security lane processes 150 passengers per hour while lanes with a canine team process up to 250 passengers per hour. Canine-screened passengers can be treated as PreCheck lines and thus can move through the checkpoints at a much faster rate.

Sea-Tac currently has five working canine teams, and will be getting two more in the near term.

Sea-Tac is the fastest growing airport in the U.S. and 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.