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US airlines spend millions to cut airport security lines

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New York / Bloomberg

US airlines and airports are spending millions on added workers to avoid a repeat of long security lines, as the coming Memorial Day weekend kicks off what’s expected to be a record year for summer travel.
“We are concerned for this weekend, where we’ll see higher than normal flight loads,” said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines Group Inc. “That will just continue into June and pretty much all the way to September.” American, Delta and United airlines will spend as much as $4 million each for extra workers at their busiest airports to help manage lines and shuffle bins at checkpoints — freeing up Transportation Security Administration officers to focus on screening. Carriers and airports also are diverting some of their own employees to take the load off TSA staff.
The efforts follow waits of as much as three hours in security lines starting last month that caused thousands of travelers to miss flights and led to hearings in Congress this week on the agency’s woes. Summer air travel is forecast to climb 4 percent this year to a record 231.1 million passengers, according to the Airlines for America trade group.
Passengers should expect to wait in lines, especially over the holiday weekend and at airports that serve as hubs for the biggest carriers. “I don’t see any way around it,” he said.
US travellers are being lured to the skies by relatively low air fares. In addition, inexpensive gasoline makes driving more attractive. AAA, the auto club, predicts that more than 38 million Americans will travel by air and road this weekend, which would be the second-highest volume on record and the most since 2005.

Lost Spending
Yet 22 percent of 2,500 people surveyed said long airport lines would prompt them to avoid air travel or delay their trips, according to research conducted last week by the U.S. Travel Association. The lost travel spending would total $4.3 billion from June through August, the industry group said.
The TSA advises passengers to arrive two hours early for domestic flights and three hours in advance for international travel, and the busiest airports are the most vulnerable to delays. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Los Angeles International, Chicago’s O’Hare International, Dallas-Fort Worth International and New York’s John F. Kennedy International are the five busiest U.S. airports, according to Airlines for America.
American, Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines each are spending about $4 million at their busiest hubs to assist TSA agents, in part by hiring contract workers. JetBlue Airways Corp. also is hiring third-party staff, while Southwest Airlines Co. and other carriers are assigning some of their own employees to help expedite security lines.

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