WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Facing a growing backlash over extremely long airport security lines, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Friday asked fliers “to be patient” as the government takes steps to get them onto planes more quickly.
Travelers across the country have endured lengthy lines, some snaking up and down escalators, or through food courts, and into terminal lobbies. At some airports, lines during peak hours have topped 90 minutes. Airlines have reported holding planes at gates to wait for passengers to clear security.
“We know the wait times are long,” said Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.
As CBS2’s Craig Boswell reported, a major baggage backup in Phoenix added to the list of problems for the TSA.
Thousands of bags could not be screened on Thursday, because of a computer glitch and passengers had to take off without them.
The TSA has fewer screeners and has tightened security procedures. Airlines and the TSA have been warning customers to arrive at the airport two hours in advance, but with summer travel season approaching even that might not be enough.
“I’ve missed flights before, I mean, seriously, especially during holidays,” said traveler John Glass. “It’s horrible – really, really bad.”
“We waited about 45 minutes to get through security,” said traveler Wendy Berryhill.
“Wait times have gotten worse,” one traveler at LaGuardia Airport told 1010 WINS’ Darius Radzius.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently called the TSA screening services inadequate and said it may look to hire private security to do their job.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday, House lawmakers blasted the TSA.
“What I’m hoping to do is build back a sufficient staff to meet the peak staffing that we need,” TSA Administrator Peter said. “We currently cannot staff effectively across the system to the peak volume periods.”
Neffenger took over the TSA last June, just weeks after an internal investigation revealed airport screeners failed 95 percent of tests to detect fake explosives and weapons.
The TSA has refocused on screening and opened a new centralized academy in Georgia earlier this year to help improve training.
In the past three years, the number of front-line screeners went from 47,147 to 42,525 in anticipation that an expedited screening program called PreCheck would speed lines. However, not enough travelers have enrolled.
PreCheck gives previously vetted passengers special screening. Shoes, belts and light jackets stay on. Laptops and liquids stay in bags. And these fliers go through standard metal detectors rather than the explosive-detecting full-body scanners most pass through.
PreCheck security lanes can screen 300 passengers an hour, twice that of standard lanes.
The TSA’s goal was to have 25 million fliers enrolled in the program. But as of March 1, only 9.3 million people were PreCheck members. Getting once-a-year fliers to join has been a challenge.
Johnson Friday said that 10,000 people applied for PreCheck Thursday, up from 8,500 a day in April and 7,500 in March. Still, at that pace, it will take more than four years to reach 25 million members.
Johnson said the government has a plan to deal with the lines, although travelers should expect to wait as they travel this summer.
“We have developed a 10 point plan that will keep passengers moving and most importantly keep them safe,” Johnson said.
Johnson said, TSA won’t neglect its duty to stop terrorists.
“Our job is to keep the American people safe,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference. “We’re not going to compromise aviation security in the face of this.”
The plan includes hiring more than 700 new TSA officers, using additional K9 teams to screen passengers, and encouraging more people to sign up for TSA PreCheck which allows passengers to move through security faster.
Homeland security said it’s also working with airlines to reduce the number of carry on bags which passengers often bring to avoid baggage fees.
Johnson said even with the new changes people should still anticipate security delays.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)