Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Longer Lines: Airline Delays Are on the Rise ; Congressional Hearings Look at How Some 200 Million Passengers Will Pass through Security Gates This Summer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Longer Lines: Airline Delays Are on the Rise ; Congressional Hearings Look at How Some 200 Million Passengers Will Pass through Security Gates This Summer

Article excerpt

Air travel is back and, potentially, so is gridlock.

But not necessarily the kind that clogged the skies the infamous summer of 2000, when record delays left a record number of passengers sitting on the tarmac and in the plastic seats of the nation's airports. This year, rather, air passengers may find themselves standing - in potentially long lines that lead to security gates.

With almost 200 million Americans taking to the skies during the peak summer travel months - a number not seen since pre-Sept. 11, and an increase of 12 percent over last year - aviation experts warn that the new security apparatus run by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is neither prepared nor flexible enough to cope.

"The screeners seem on the whole to be doing a good job, but when you put that many people through that small a funnel, you're bound to cause friction," says Dean Headley, a professor at Wichita State University in Kansas and coauthor of the Airline Quality Rating.

The TSA is facing criticism from airlines, airport managers, and passenger advocates for not being responsive enough to the needs of travelers. In March, the Department of Transportation got four times as many complaints about security screening than about airlines, travel agents, and tour operators combined. Airport managers complain that the centralized, bureaucratic structure of the TSA makes it difficult to keep up staffing levels, let alone adjust them to the needs of the airports at peak times. The end result: Some screeners end up sitting around midday with nothing to do, while at rush hour, lines can snake around the terminal, with travelers waiting as long as an hour.

"Most of us don't think security is being compromised. What's being compromised is customer service," says David Plavin, president of the Airports Council International in Washington, which represents the nation's airports.

At a hearing of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Thursday, the TSA defended its performance and said it will be prepared for the summer rush - just as it was during the Christmas holiday, another peak travel season.

The TSA federal security directors at each airport have been working directly with airlines and airport managers to find ways to maximize the resources they have - in other words, making sure the level of screeners matches the level of passenger traffic. …

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