The United States will not compromise aviation security for the sake of moving passengers quickly through the nation's airports, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Friday, and work is continuing in Washington to put more TSA agents to work full-time.
"We are going to keep passengers moving this weekend, but we are also going to keep them safe," Johnson told the "CBS This Morning" program
about the crowds of people expected at airports for their Memorial Day weekend trips. "That is our principal responsibility."
In the past several weeks, there have been many Transportation Security officers (TSOs) who have been converted from part time to full time, and Johnson said on Thursday that he sent a request to Congress for funding to reprogram 2,700 officers to full time work, “[allowing] us to screen people a lot faster."
And while the lines at the nation's airports have shocked many, Johnson said that for 90 percent of travelers, the average wait time is 30 minutes or less.
"It's clear that at the busiest airports, the hubs, like Chicago, LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), Newark, are experiencing longer wait times," said Johnson. "That's the reason we are encouraging people to join TSAPre. https://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck If you are in TSAPre, your wait time is about 5 minutes."
Johnson said he expects the additional TSOs to be on the job by mid-June, but meanwhile, there are steps passengers themselves can use to ease their wait times, including being careful not to take prohibited items or too-large carry-on bags onto planes.
Meanwhile, Johnson said the government has known for some time that problems were coming.
"A year ago, we focused on and rededicated ourselves to aviation security based on world events and findings by the inspector general," said Johnson. "A year ago I told TSA to refocus on aviation security. A year ago I said this would bleed to more wait times at airports. Couple that with the fact we've seen record numbers of air travelers, and that has led to longer or unexpected wait times at some of the nation's busiest airports at certain times of the day."
Senators have been calling on airlines to waive baggage fees in hopes of getting passengers to check their luggage, rather than trying to take it through TSA lines, and Johnson said Thursday he has also asked airlines to consider dropping their fees.
The airlines have dedicated some of their employees to help in non-security areas of the check-in lines, and that has helped, but it's a short-term fix that won't help this weekend. That is up to passengers, Johnson explained.
"Prohibited items or oversized baggage, that slows things down," said Johnson. "Plan to get to the airport about 2 hours early."
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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