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SEA Will Consider Booting TSA Screeners in Favor of Private Contractors

Lines of travelers snake past TSA agents at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last fall.

Faced with mounting frustration over long wait times at SEA, airport officials make a promise to consider every option, including replacing the TSA employees with private security firms.

Officials are pledging to reduce long wait times at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA), even if fixing the issue requires taking drastic steps. According to U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) office, the “unacceptably long wait times” at TSA checkpoints led nearly 1,000 SEA passengers to miss flights in March alone.

Senator Cantwell recently managed to convince TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger to allow the airport to temporarily reinstitute the local training of Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) instead of sending new recruits to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia for training. Local officials lauded the change, noting that even at peak times, less than two-thirds of the airport’s 32 available screening checkpoints are now put to use.

“TSA staffing at Sea-Tac is inadequate, and we haven’t even reached our busiest time of the year,” Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman said of the stop-gap-solution. “We’re working hard for a less turbulent summer season. Senator Cantwell’s efforts will significantly benefit our travelers.”

While SEA Director Lance Lyttle agrees that staffing is a major contributor to the long wait times at the airport, he is also allowing that the TSA itself might be part of the problem. Lyttle says that replacing TSA screeners altogether is very much an option on the table.

“It’s really a sign of us looking outside the box,” Lyttle told Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO. “We have a problem and we can’t operate the same way and expect different results.”

He cautioned that no decisions have been made about replacing TSA screeners with private contractors, but admitted that he will be studying San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to learn more about how the airport made the switch to private screeners. Lyttle said he will also hold a meeting with local officials to explore the logistics of replacing TSA screeners.

Even if SEA makes the decision to apply for permission to stop using TSA screeners, under federal statute, all commercial airports in the U.S. are still regulated by the TSA. Airports that are said to have “opted out” of the TSA program are actually opting into a Screening Partnership Program (SPP) that allows some airports to hire and fire approved private firms which are permitted to supply screeners who will then work under the direct supervision of the TSA.

[Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP]

Comments are Closed.
KRSW April 12, 2016

What is there to consider? This should be an easy decision! Give the TSA the finger and boot, bring in the private contractors in. The private contractors know they have to keep pax, the airport, and TSA happy.

brocklee9000 April 10, 2016

PreCheck should still exist (as well as Global Entry). Since it's a DHS/TSA program, and airports who opt to use private contractors still have to be supervised and approved by TSA, it should still be in place. For example, look at SFO. The airport's website, as well as the TSA website, say that SFO has PreCheck in place. I can only assume the contractors are using the same info that TSA uses to check passengers (such as CAPPS), therefore trusted travelers and those with redress numbers should be recognized.

RandomBaritone April 10, 2016

am1108 wrote: "So, If SEA employs a private contractor to do their screening, then does this mean that there will be no TSA Precheck at SEA?" No, not at all. For example, SFO uses private contractors trained by the TSA, and every checkpoint has PreCheck.

am1108 April 8, 2016

So, If SEA employs a private contractor to do their screening, then does this mean that there will be no TSA Precheck at SEA?

Lakeviewsteve April 8, 2016

A few months ago ATL voiced the same threat. I wonder if the situation there has changed since the threat.