Officials hope adding TSA agents — humans and dogs — will shorten long security lines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Summer’s coming and there’ll be waiting, and more waiting, in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport lines.
Help is on the way in the form of more TSA agents and more dogs trained to sniff for explosive vapors, it was announced Friday.
It’s not as if you — that would be you, among the 42 million people who went through the airport last year, making it the fastest growing in the country — haven’t let your frustrations be known.
TSA says it doesn’t keep track of airport wait times, or rank them against each other, but here are some choice comments posted on Skytrax, the London-based airline and airport review site:
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“Just standing around … my wait was over an hour and a half.”
“Slow and rude … It is worse than going through customs at Newark.”
“No one in line could believe how they had us snaked around the terminal.”
“ … one of the nastiest airports that I’ve flown through …”
At a news conference held on the mezzanine above Checkpoint 3 in the middle of the airport, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Peter Neffenger, administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, promised major changes by summer travel season.
Fortuitously, during the late-morning event, although there were short periods of the long lines to which passengers have grown accustomed, they moved along pretty fast. Maybe five or 10 minutes of waiting.
“It’s good luck,” said Neffenger.
He said the TSA Academy is graduating 200 new officers each week, and that they’ll be “front-loaded” to facilities such as Sea-Tac, which Cantwell said is expected to soon see 50 million people passing through each year.
Right now, Sea-Tac has the equivalent of 840 TSA staffers among its part-timers and full-timers. Their entry-level salary is $16 an hour and they all qualify for federal health benefits, vacation and 401(k). The TSA says the latter benefits make it an attractive job.
Neffenger said the agency has 322 trained sniffing dogs nationwide and expects that total to reach 500 by the end of the year.
Right now, Sea-Tac has five such dogs, and there’ll be seven by the summer.
Neffenger said the canines sniffing through the lines can speed up lanes by as much as 100 passengers an hour.
A dog such as Loki, a male golden lab, is trained to sniff for primary components of improvised explosive devices, such as urea nitrate and hydrogen peroxide, and a component called “RDX” that’s used in plastic explosives.
Loki and his fellow sniffing dogs are trained to let their handler know “an explosive scent has been detected, often without the source being aware,” says the TSA.
If you pass muster with Loki, then you advance faster through the TSA lines, perhaps not even having to endure the unpopular task of taking off and putting back on your shoes.
But the dogs require 10 months to train, and 13 percent flunk out.
So, a lot of promises.
Sea-Tac said it has hired 90 workers to help passengers put their belongings in bins for screening, freeing up TSA agents to move things along. It said it expects to have 28 screening lanes open during peak times, as opposed to the current 16 to 18 lanes.
Presumably, this all will improve the grades that the airport has been getting.
It is proud that in 2016, Skytrax awarded it the “Best Staff in North America” based on survey questionnaires and also listed it among the top 10 global airports in the 40-to-50-million-passenger category.
At the same time, so far this year, the airport itself has received 649 negative comments about its checkpoints, 173 neutral comments and only 54 positive comments.
Of course, it is the grumps who are the loudest, right?
My oh my.
“If you’d like to see what a look of pure hatred looks like I’d love to introduce you to the TSA guy who checked my ID here at SeaTac.”
Another person said the TSA employees were “reminiscent of a drill sergeant.”
“I’m watching people cry, begging @TSA agents to be moved to the front of the line.”
OK, here is one of 54 positive comments:
“I’ve heard of it being a nightmare but the security line @SeaTacAirport was actually a breeze! Totally organized and moving fast.”
And a final word from TSA Administrator Neffenger.
As always, “Arrive early. Two hours in advance.”