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American Airlines hires firm to help ease long waits at security

A long line of travelers wait for the TSA security check point at O'Hare International airport, Monday, May 16, 2016, in Chicago. Already faced with lines that snake through terminals out to the curb, fliers are bracing for long waits at security in the busy months of July and August. Some major airports are currently seeing wait times exceeding 90 minutes at peak hours. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
A long line of travelers wait for the TSA security check point at O'Hare International airport, Monday, May 16, 2016, in Chicago. Already faced with lines that snake through terminals out to the curb, fliers are bracing for long waits at security in the busy months of July and August. Some major airports are currently seeing wait times exceeding 90 minutes at peak hours. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford) AP

American Airlines is spending $4 million to hire a company to help travelers move through long lines at security checkpoints at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and other airports this summer.

Joe Taney, American’s vice president of DFW hub operations, said that the carrier plans to have additional staff in place within the next three weeks to help customers prepare to move through security and then exit the security area.

“It’s not the silver bullet that is going to fix everything because frankly TSA needs more officers to open up more lanes,” Taney said, “But what we can do … is to get customers ready for the experience and help customers get through it quicker than we are today.”

Travelers have encountered waits up to an hour long at Terminal D trying to get through security during peak times. Security wait times at Terminal A and Terminal C checkpoints have ranged from 30 to 50 minutes during peak times, Taney said.

Wait times have gotten progressively worse in the past month as the TSA changed some of its screening protocols. Also, in the past three years the TSA and Congress cut the number of front-line screeners by about 10 percent on expectations that an expedited screening program called PreCheck would speed up the lines, according to The Associated Press. But not enough people enrolled for the TSA to realize the anticipated efficiencies.

While wait times have increased at DFW, Taney said American has seen the most problems at Chicago O’Hare Airport. Over the weekend, many travelers there missed flights because of long security lines and the carrier brought in cots for passengers who had to spend the night waiting to board the next morning.

“Tens of thousands of customers have missed their flights and tens of thousands of checked bags have been delayed,” American’s chief operating officer Robert Isom wrote in a letter sent to American employees on Wednesday. “This is unacceptable to all of us, and the federal government can and should do better.”

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American plans to initially pay for the line management service that it will use at several of its hub airports. Isom said the carrier will spend $4 million on contract staff in addition to the $17 million the carrier already spends each year to help reduce customer wait times.

The contract staffers will help customers, particularly families, the elderly and the disabled take laptops and liquids out of carry-on luggage prior to the screening process. They will also help customers move their security bins away from the checkpoint after going through security, so they can put their shoes and belts back on and reassemble their bags.

“We need to kind of help the TSA process customers right away so that we can help during the summer rush,” Taney said.

Earlier this month, DFW Airport chief executive Sean Donohue expressed confidence that the airport would receive additional TSA staff if approved by Congress. The airport is also considering taking over some non-security related operations from the TSA such as K-9 operations or moving bins used to pass personal bags and items through screening machines.

“Whatever we can do to free up their resources, we’re going to do it,” Donohue said.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

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