Huge increase in passengers causing air travel nightmares
Just in time for Spring Break, many of the biggest airports across the country are reporting long lines at their Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.
The TSA is blaming a record increase in travelers and says it doesn't have the staff to move everyone through the screeners fast enough.
That's led to passengers missing their flights, and city leaders calling for the TSA chief to fix the problem as soon as possible.
In Seattle, one passenger told NBC News a flight was missed due to a two-hour delay in the TSA security line.
The same story has played out in Chicago and Atlanta, Dallas and Newark.
Teej Grant, a passenger at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, told NBC News the long lines have become untenable.
"The regular lines are very lengthy, they are long, and they are quite a pain to stand on, but there seems to be confusion among the staff," Grant said. "People are somewhat frustrated this morning, but everybody is getting through it."
At some airports, checkpoints are even closed.
The TSA chief was on the defensive during a press conference in Minneapolis Friday.
"It's no different if you were to go Disney World at the peak period of the year, you are going to expect to stand in some lines," said Admiral Peter Neffenger, the TSA administrator.
"I'll tell you I don't like waiting on lines either, and I know you don't," he said. "But I will do it when it's important and when the purpose of the line is to protect me and my family, that's the most important thing we can do."
The crux of the problem? A record surge in passengers.
This spring, 140 million people are expected to travel. The TSA says passenger volume is up nationwide by 7 percent over last year.
And passengers are carrying more luggage onboard to avoid baggage fees, which creates bottlenecks at TSA scanners.
Meanwhile, the agency is focused on spotting weapons after failing several high profile audits. A record 2,600 guns were confiscated last year.
The TSA says it's at its lowest staffing level in five years and is now trying to staff up — training 192 officers each week.
In Minneapolis, there has been some improvement.
"I think you already see improvements here in Minneapolis and I think you will see the same thing at each of the largest airports in the nation," Neffenger said. "It's one of my biggest concerns right now," he said.
But the state's senior U.S. senator says it's only a start.
"I don't think we can ever be satisfied until things get back to a place where people feel really good about coming to the airport," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, said.
So for those looking to make a warm weather escape during spring break, get to the airport very early.
And brace for what the TSA chief predicts could be a "very intense" summer.
"My commitment to you is to prove to you that we are doing the best job that we can," Neffenger said.
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