American fliers can expect shorter waits during peak travel times this summer, according to the Transportation Security Administration, which is staffing up in preparation for the coming influx of travelers.
TSA said it is expecting a record number of passengers between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and will have 2,000 more officers working compared to 2016. It will also have 50 more canine screening teams. TSA came under fire for a brief period last summer after travelers at some airports faced extended wait times of several hours. TSA ultimately was able to reallocate resources and obtain authority from Congress to reprogram funding to address the issue.
The 2017 staffing surge comes after years of cuts to TSA’s workforce, which occurred at the agency’s own request. In its budget proposals for fiscal years 2014 through 2016, the agency told Congress it would slash its rolls due to programs like Pre-Check and other checkpoint efficiencies.
» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
Congress has helped to reverse that trend and correct the overly aggressive cuts in its recent omnibus spending agreement for fiscal 2017, providing TSA a 4 percent funding boost to hire 1,400 more airport screeners.
Despite the hiring surge, TSA conceded “delays at the airport may occur” due to increased volume and advised travelers to arrive two hours before their domestic flights and three hours before international travel.
“TSA is tasked with a complex, critical security mission that can only be accomplished through close collaboration with stakeholders and partners,” said acting TSA Administrator Huban Gowadia. “We will not compromise our security mission of protecting air travelers as we face an evolving threat by a determined enemy.”
Recruitment, on-boarding, training, deployment and general support for transportation security officers could also run into delays due to an ongoing hiring freeze for all non-front line employees. TSA’s then-acting Deputy Director Gary Rasicot said in an April memorandum to employees the agency would continue for headquarters and support staff the hiring freeze President Trump had ended on a governmentwide basis. The moratorium, Rasicot said, would continue until TSA received “greater clarity on the fiscal 2018 budget outcome.” Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman, said the partial freeze is "not impacting our administrative side of things."
TSA said Monday it has deployed dozens of “automated lanes” at several high-traffic airports to speed up the screening process, and expects to roll out more such lanes in the coming months.
This story has been updated with comment from TSA.