Long lines at the nation’s airports may continue through the summer, the result of record travel, understaffed checkpoints and changes made to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks, the head of the Transportation Security Administration told Congress on Wednesday.

TSA Administrator Peter V. Neffenger said that even with additional staffing help on the way, Americans could expect scant relief from long waits to clear security checkpoints.

“Clearly, the summer travel season is going to be busy,” he told the House Homeland Security Committee. “In the short term, TSA, airlines, airports, Congress and travelers working together can improve the passenger experience.”

With 97 million more passengers expected to pass through TSA screening this year than did three years ago, Neffenger said adding several hundred new screeners, paying overtime and giving part-time TSA workers full-time jobs won’t be enough to make the long lines evaporate.

Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) opened Wednesday’s hearing by ticking off a list of recent TSA controversies: three-hour-long security lines, scores of passengers missing flights at various airports, passengers stranded overnight in Chicago, 3,000 pieces of checked luggage that missed flights because of a breakdown in Phoenix and an 80 percent increase in wait times at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“The American people are fed up with this,” McCaul said. The TSA “has struggled to keep up with the high demand and has been unable to put the right people in the right place at the right time.”

Neffenger said the problem of high volume and under staffing was exacerbated by one of his decisions. He ended a practice that allowed randomly selected passengers to pass through a special line reserved for those whose pre-flight background checks identified them as low risk.

“I knew that that would dramatically increase the number of people back in the standard lines,” Neffenger said, “and we weren’t staffed at the level we needed to be to man all the lines.”


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