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Long lines predicted at airport security checkpoints this summer because of TSA cutbacks

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Flier are likely to face long security lines at airports across the country this summer. Above, travelers wait at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
(Ted S. Warren / AP)

The wait times at airport security checkpoints, always a source of grief for air passengers, have gotten so lengthy that airlines and airport operators are protesting and predicting gridlock during the upcoming summer travel season.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the head administrator suggested hiring private contractors to help speed the lines.

Airline officials say the delays have kept hundreds of passengers from catching their flights. They fear that the problems will only grow worse if the Transportation Security Administration doesn’t hire more agents before the peak summer travel season and are advising passengers to arrive extra early for their flights.

“Our customers are waiting in TSA lines greater than one hour,” American Airlines spokesman Casey Norton said. “Due to the length of the lines, hundreds of flights have been delayed.”

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The longer wait times appear to result from factors including more travelers, a delay in hiring additional airport screeners and more extensive security measures adopted in the last year.

The TSA said it is authorized to have 42,500 security agents working at U.S. airports, about 7% fewer than in 2014. Meanwhile, the agency forecast that 740 million passengers will be screened at U.S. airports this year, up 12% from 2014.

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In addition, TSA agents are using more thorough passenger screening tactics after terrorist attacks in Europe and news last summer that 67 of 70 fake bombs got past TSA agents as part of regular security tests. The TSA also no longer allows regular fliers to use expedited security lines — known as TSA PreCheck — when standard lines get long.

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The TSA acknowledged the longer lines but said it is working on the problem.

“While TSA has a robust plan to address the growing volume, to include more canine use, overtime and accelerated hiring, we are appreciative that our airline partners are working with us by asking travelers to arrive at the airport two hours early for domestic flights, which will help to alleviate some of the expected summer congestion,” the agency said in a statement.

The longer waits have frustrated passengers.

On Friday, a Chicago traveler named Sarah Compton, flying out of O’Hare International Airport, tweeted: “45 mins later, I literally cannot see where this security line ends.”

At Los Angeles International Airport, Ryan Leslie of Austin, Texas, said he was stuck in a 50-minute line and found that only one of three full-body scanners was in use. “LAX is a joke,” he tweeted.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Twitter: @hugomartin

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