Prodded by frequent failures to detect mock explosives and weapons during tests, the Transportation Security Administration is retraining airport screeners in Atlanta and across the country.
The move to ensure traveler safety comes with a possible downside, however: security wait times could tick up.
“I believe that the traveling public is willing to accept that there may be a slightly longer wait to ensure that they’re secure getting on the plane,” the TSA’s new administrator, Peter Neffenger, said during a visit to Atlanta on Tuesday.
“It is a concern. I think there’s a balance… Security is always a priority from my perspective.”
The summer travel season already has produced complaints about long lines at the world’s busiest airport. At times, the lines have stretched from the main security screening checkpoint through the atrium and beyond, causing waits of up to 45 minutes.
Airport officials met with Neffenger and shared their concerns about wait times.
Neffenger, who stepped into the TSA’s top job in June after retiring as vice commandant of the Coast Guard, visited Atlanta this week to meet with local officials and employees, review Hartsfield-Jackson’s new employee screening plans and observe screener training.
TSA screeners will go through 8 hours of training in August or September. The agency then plans to test the system to see how results improve. TSA has roughly 1,000 workers in Atlanta.
Neffenger said he’d like to begin training all of TSA’s new hires at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco near Brunswick by January 2016, calling it a “world-class training facility.”
While in the past Hartsfield-Jackson has had a target wait time of 20 minutes or less for security, Neffenger said Tuesday: “I think it’s tough to pick a target wait time.”
“You want to make sure you’re doing an effective job,” Neffenger said. At the same time, “you don’t want to have too many people backed up because that’s a security risk in and of itself.”
The TSA says wait times are under 20 minutes the vast majority of the time. Lines are longer during some peak times, though, such as after Memorial Day weekend.
“People should just realize the aviation world is pretty busy right now,” Neffenger said. Hartsfield-Jackson has seen an 8 percent increase in volume this year, screening an average of 60,000 passengers a day.
Neffenger also said the TSA plans to stop directing travelers who are not enrolled in its PreCheck “trusted traveler” program to use the expedited security lanes in the next few months. And some PreCheck procedures will change as TSA works to address vulnerabilities.
But Neffenger said enrolling in PreCheck — which generally costs $85 for five years — “is still a good way to move yourself through the system at a reasonable pace.”