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Port of Seattle is spending millions to speed up TSA lines at Sea-Tac

Millions of dollars could be spent to speed up the lines at Sea-Tac airport. (Eric Mandel, MyNorthwest)

The Transportation Security Administration has 32 security lanes at Sea-Tac Airport, but it only uses about 17 despite the ever-growing passenger numbers traveling through the area. The Port of Seattle is now ready to spend millions of dollars to get those vacant lanes open.

Related: Sea-Tac travelers actually attempted to bring these items onto a plane

The Port of Seattle commission gave its chief executive officer the thumbs up to spend $3.3 million to contract with a private company. That company will assist with managing lines at Sea-Tac Airport from May 1 through January 2017. The contract has yet to become official, but the port has already spread the word that it is working to alleviate waiting in the airports’ packed lines.

“These long lines are unacceptable and they’re happening even before our busy summer season,” said Port Commissioner Tom Albro. “The port is stepping up to help travelers get through the airport as quickly and efficiently as possible. We are listening to our travelers and making up for TSA shortages.”

As part of its argument for the hire, the port commission’s March 18 agenda states that Delta Airlines has reported as many as 500 passengers missing their flights due to the long security lines at Sea-Tac, and they aren’t alone. Wait times at security checkpoints have grown to as long as two hours with nearly 60,000 people passing through each day during the peak travel season.

TSA has previously cited a lack of funding to properly staff airports as a reason the lines remain long and slow. TSA staffing levels have not risen along with passenger numbers in the past five years, making 2016 its lowest staffed year. With private help, the port hopes that wait times will be brought down to 20-30 minutes.

According to the port’s March 18 commission agenda, it plans to contract with HSS, the only firm that is certified through the Safety Act to perform duties at the airport. Though contractors will be assigned to non-security positions at the airport, such as helping passengers prepare for the checkpoint, moving around plastic bins and line management. The hope is that the contractors will free up TSA agents to handle more security jobs and open more checkpoints to process passengers – perhaps even the remaining 15 lanes it currently doesn’t use.

The port is also expected to use its own security staff to help out at the airport.

The $3.3 million slated for the contract was not part of the port’s budget for the year. The port, however, plans to pay for the effort by recovering the funds “through terminal rents,” according to the commission’s agenda.

MyNorthwest reached out to various airlines that operate through Sea-Tac Airport to see if any of the additional terminal rental costs would be passed along to the customer. The airlines either did not respond by deadline or said they could not discuss future pricing.

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