Airport security lines getting worse, Hartsfield-Jackson officials consider privatizing security

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport officials are frustrated with understaffing at security checkpoints, and are "dreading the outcome of summer 2016," according to a letter to the Transportation Security Administration.

Wait times during peak periods often exceed 35 minutes. Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell wrote to the TSA that wait times were as long as 52 minutes last Friday morning, for example.

And, with big increases in passenger traffic, "things appear to be only getting worse, he wrote. "We fear an even busier summer this year."

In the Feb. 12 letter, Southwell wrote to TSA administrator Peter Neffenger that the airport is "giving serious consideration" to privatizing the security screening at the world's busiest airport. Commercial airports like Hartsfield-Jackson can privatize screening by applying for the TSA's Screening Partnership Program.

"We have been conducting exhaustive research" with other airports that have privatized screening, "weighing the pros and cons," Southwell wrote. Airports that use privatized screening include San Francisco International, Orlando Sanford and Sarasota-Bradenton.

Southwell wrote that unless there is a "dramatic shift" in staffing or new technology in the next 60 days, the airport will take steps to launch privatized screening at the airport.

TSA in a written statement responded that it is evaluating Southwell's letter.

Hartsfield-Jackson "remains a focus airport" for Neffenger, according to the TSA. "We recognize that the issues raised in the letter are a concern, not just in Atlanta."

"While we are working on better solutions, we believe the public will support our vital mission of ensuring safe air transportation," TSA said in its written statement.

According to TSA, screeners in Atlanta are screening about 15 percent more passengers a day than last year, or 8,000 extra passengers a day. Yet TSA says its staffing in its current budget allocated by Congress caps screener staffing at the same level as the previous year -- the lowest level in five years.

When long security lines were causing concerns at Hartsfield-Jackson last year, Neffenger said lines could get longer, not shorter, amid a TSA initiative to close gaps in security screening.

“I believe that the traveling public is willing to accept that there may be a slightly longer wait to ensure that they’re secure getting on the plane,” Neffenger said last year.


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About the Author

Kelly Yamanouchi
Kelly Yamanouchi
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.