The head of the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday that he was making it a priority to bring changes to the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport in response to complaints from travelers and lawmakers in Washington state over long wait times.
Fielding questions during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said future Sea-Tac security officers will be trained locally rather than in Georgia as originally planned. Airport officials believe the maneuver could allow the airport to bring onboard new hires as much as a month earlier than expected.
Pressure has mounted recently for Mr. Neffenger to solve Sea-Tac’s problems with respect to long security lines, and the airport’s director on Wednesday told Seattle’s KIRO 7 that he was weighing whether the facility should replace TSA employees with private contractors to resolve the issue.
“It’s really a sign of us looking outside the box,” Sea-Tac’s Lance Lyttle told the news station. “We have a problem, and we can’t operate the same way and expect different results.”
During a Capitol Hill hearing, however, Mr. Neffenger told lawmakers that he’s made resolving the problem a top “priority” for TSA and plans to visit Sea-Tac as early as next week.
“We have to mitigate what is going to be a very challenging summer season by pushing as many new hires as we can into the system, directing them to the airports of greatest needs. Sea-Tac is one of those,” he testified.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, said during Wednesday’s hearing that Sea-Tac is the fastest-growing hub in the country, but it is inadequately staffed with security officials.
“Last year, we had 42 million passengers, but only planned for 19 million. We have a problem at Sea-Tac. Will you allow for localized training?” she asked Mr. Neffenger.
“Yes, we are going to do local training at Sea-Tac,” the TSA chief agreed.
Fred Felleman, the commissioner of the Port of Seattle, applauded the senator and transportation administrator alike for addressing the issue during Wednesday’s hearing.
“TSA staffing at Sea-Tac is inadequate, and we haven’t even reached our busiest time of the year,” Mr. Felleman told KOMO News. “We’re working hard for a less turbulent summer season. Senator Cantwell’s efforts will significantly benefit our travelers.”
Ms. Cantwell’s office said 1,000 passengers who planned to depart from Sea-Tac last March missed their flights as a result of long wait times at security lines.