Nationwide plague of long TSA lines has not yet landed in Columbus

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – With hundreds of passengers nationwide missing flights because of long security lines, travelers in Columbus are finding that getting out of the city may be easier than getting back.

Mark Howell, a regional spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration, told NBC4 Tuesday that the longer wait times stem from two main issues. He said the number of travelers increases each year, while staffing remains at the same level as 5 years ago. He also noted that the TSA PreCheck program has not been as popular as expected.

Still, he said the issue was mainly confined to large airports with longer lines and queues. At Port Columbus, Howell said it was rare to see a wait time of 20 minutes, with most averaging 10 or fewer minutes.

Travelers at Port Columbus said they were prepared.

“I get there way early, just in case you have traffic problems or standing in line,” Cheryl King said. “I try not to take on anything that you’re not supposed to.”

King told NBC4 she had seen some long lines ahead of her when she boarded in Kansas City early Tuesday morning. The line of 75 or 100 people moved through in about 20 minutes, King said.

“We waited awhile, but the line kept moving,” she said. “You didn’t just stand there for a long period of time. It kept moving and it went pretty fast.”

Angie Tabor, a spokesperson for Port Columbus, said the airport saw 9 percent more travelers in the first quarter of 2016 than in the first quarter of 2015. She said that means more than 20,000 people per day travel through Port Columbus—a couple thousand more than normal.

Debbie Burgess, who traveled from Fort Myers, Fla. to Columbus, said she usually gets to the airport about an hour or an hour and a half early when she flies.

“Columbus and Fort Myers are really easy airports,” Burgess said. “If I’m going to be in New York, it’s going to be a little different.”

Karen Moss flew in Monday night from New York to Columbus and was flying out Tuesday afternoon to Boston to see her grandchildren.

“I came in last night from New York, and the lines were very long,” she said. “But it’s helpful to have the TSA PreCheck.”

Along with checking bags instead of carrying them on, PreCheck and arriving two hours before departure are tips recommended by TSA.

Howell said in order to deal with the higher volume of passengers expected during the summer, TSA plans to hire 768 people nationwide. He said it takes 2 months to train them before they can begin working at the checkpoints.

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