TSA wait times at MSP Airport take spotlight at MAC meeting

The issue of wait times at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport security checkpoints was front and center at Monday’s Metropolitan Airports Commission meeting. Board members asked Minnesota TSA director Cliff Van Leuven how the problem can be fixed, and the consensus answer seemed to be staffing.

According to Van Lueven, TSA’s budget has dropped by 9 percent nationally, and in the 3 years he's been on the job in Minnesota, he says 60 to 80 TSA officers have been lost. At the same time, MAC says wait times have increased, and despite the construction of the brand new North Security Checkpoint, wait times have often clocked in at up to 70 minutes.

"We are not deaf to what the public is saying, we are not deaf to what the media is writing, we are not deaf to what you are hearing,” Van Lueven said. “And what you talked about this afternoon, it weighs very, very heavily on us.”

While understaffing received the most attention, TSA insiders tell Fox 9 that isn't the problem. According to TSA sources, MSP Airport currently has a screener allocation model (SAM) of 625, and at last check the TSA has 654 full time employees. In other words, the TSA at MSP is not short-staffed, they actually employ about 30 more people than they should.

There are 16 screening lanes available at Terminal 1, but there are usually only 8 to 15 lines open. The MAC board says TSA staffing is clearly the problem, and that the new system is not being fully utilized.

Adding to the congestion at TSA checkpoints, the number of passengers starting or ending their journey at MSP is up 10 percent. The month of March also brings spring break, during which the average passenger load increases by 10,000 per day.

Gov. Dayton: TSA has 'ruined' efficiency of Minneapolis airport security

In a March 1 letter to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said the TSA has ruined the efficiency of MSP’s previously well-designed checkpoints and questioned the agency’s excuse that insufficient staffing is the cause of delays.

Dear Administrator Neffenger,

I am deeply concerned about the very significant delays and long queues Minnesotans are experiencing at the security checkpoints of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP) Airport.

MSP serves as a hub for major carriers and has long had one of the best-designed and most efficient security checkpoints in the nation. However, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has ruined this efficiency by changing the configuration of the checkpoints. Some passengers are reporting waits in security lines that are ten or more times longer than under the previous system.

Your Administration’s official response has been to point to insufficient staffing at MSP. However, unless that number has just been further reduced, it cannot explain the sudden loss of efficiencies and lengthened delays.

I fully support the enhanced security measures TSA has implemented this year to improve the safety of air travelers. However, those changes must also come with staffing resources to ensure the flying public can efficiently move through the airport to board their flights.

I respectfully urge you to provide more TSA staffing at the new MSP checkpoints to reduce the long lines and wait times.


Mark Dayton, Governor

The governor joins Sen. Amy Klobuchar in demanding the TSA speed-up the security checkpoints at MSP. This comes after the Metropolitan Airports Commission sent a letter to the TSA, saying the situation has become “unacceptable.”

While passenger volume at MSP has increased by 10.5 percent since 2011, Klobuchar said the TSA’s national workforce has declined by roughly 15 percent in the same time frame.

TSA statement on Sen. Klobuchar’s concerns

"TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger spoke with Sen. Klobuchar this afternoon to discuss her concerns about wait times at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP). MSP is one of the busiest airports in the county, with particularly high traffic anticipated in March. TSA takes MSP operations very seriously and will continue to work closely with the airport and airlines to improve the passenger experience while remaining focused on the agency’s critical security mission of keeping travelers safe."

VIDEO - Long wait times, security issues at new MSP security checkpoint