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With marathon security lines causing thousands of U.S. airline passengers to miss flights, the Transportation Security Administration plans to hire nearly 800 new officers this month and pay for more part-time workers and overtime.But the union that represents...

TSA plans more staff to cut airport lines, but union says it's not enough

With marathon security lines causing thousands of U.S. airline passengers to miss flights, the Transportation Security Administration plans to hire nearly 800 new officers this month and pay for more part-time workers and overtime.But the union that represents...

TSA plans more staff to cut airport lines, but union says it's not enough

With marathon security lines causing thousands of U.S. airline passengers to miss flights, the Transportation Security Administration plans to hire nearly 800 new officers this month and pay for more part-time workers and overtime.

But the union that represents security officers said that won't solve the problem, and that TSA needs 6,000 additional full-time officers to address a shortfall that has come as airlines are experiencing an increase in passengers.

Long lines, blamed on the TSA staffing situation along with tighter security measures, are expected to worsen heading into the busy summer travel season.

The staffing problems are hitting the flying public hard. About 450 American Airlines customers at O'Hare International Airport missed flights Sunday due to lines of more than two hours, and dozens who couldn't get on a later flight slept on cots at the terminal, American spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.

When Erin Walton, of Rockford, left Midway Airport on Thursday, she and her family stood in line for more than two hours and barely made their flight to Dallas.

Walton and her family arrived early Monday at the airport in Dallas so they could make their flight back to Chicago. They encountered long lines there too.

"The lines move, but they are so long," she said. "It appears they don't have a lot of staff. We manage it because we know security checks are necessary. We just try to endure."

Nightmarishly long security lines continue at O'Hare

With increasingly long lines to get through security at Chicago's airports, many travelers have missed their flights, forcing some to spend the night at O'Hare International Airport on May 15, 2016. (CBS Chicago)

With increasingly long lines to get through security at Chicago's airports, many travelers have missed their flights, forcing some to spend the night at O'Hare International Airport on May 15, 2016. (CBS Chicago)

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American and United airlines are hiring extra people to handle nonsecurity TSA functions and speed up lines, such as reminding passengers to remove their shoes.

The TSA has received permission from Congress to shift $34 million to pay for additional officers. About $26 million will go toward additional hours for front-line officers, including more overtime and part-time officers, while another $8 million will be used to hire 769 officers this month instead of in September as originally planned.

The TSA now has about 42,000 officers, down from 47,000 in 2013. During the same period, passenger volume has risen 15 percent, to 740 million from 643 million, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA officers.

The problem also hurts airline operations, as airlines risk flying out with half-empty planes if lines are too long. Airlines sometimes pull people to the front of the line if their flight is leaving soon, or face the tough choice of delaying a flight and causing a cascade of late arrivals throughout the country.

Video of Midway Airport security line goes viral Gregory Pratt

When Sean Hoffman arrived at Midway Airport last week for his flight home to Oregon, he said he was taken aback by the comically long line to get through security.

"I got to the end, (and) I was like, holy (expletive), people would probably like to see this," Hoffman recalled in an interview.

So...

When Sean Hoffman arrived at Midway Airport last week for his flight home to Oregon, he said he was taken aback by the comically long line to get through security.

"I got to the end, (and) I was like, holy (expletive), people would probably like to see this," Hoffman recalled in an interview.

So...

(Gregory Pratt)

The Chicago Department of Aviation and airlines are encouraging passengers to get to the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights.

The issue has raised bipartisan alarm in Congress. Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk sent a letter Monday to TSA administrator Peter Neffenger asking him to detail how the agency's plan to shift funds to increase staffing will benefit Chicago and other major cities.

Kirk wrote that on a recent trip from Chicago to Washington, D.C., he was "dismayed" to see screening lanes and equipment unused while passengers waited for hours.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a member of the House transportation committee, on Monday called the TSA delays "unacceptable" and said he will continue to ask questions about how the situation got to this point and what can be done to speed up solutions.

Chicago aviation department spokesman Owen Kilmer said the TSA budgeted for 15 canine units at the two Chicago airports, which can cut wait times because dogs can sniff passengers for explosive materials, allowing them to be moved to a quicker line.

But the city does not know when the airports will get the canine units. Currently only four are assigned at O'Hare and one at Midway, and last week health issues for the dog and its handler at Midway meant the airport had none, Kilmer said.

The TSA had hoped there would be more people using a 4-year-old expedited screening program called PreCheck, with a goal of getting 25 million fliers into the program by 2019. Fliers who pass the $85 background check do not have to remove shoes, belts and light jackets, allowing for a faster line.

But only about 7.25 million people have enrolled in prescreening programs such as PreCheck or Global Entry, administered through U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Michael McCarthy, a TSA spokesman.

Airlines for America, an airline trade group, created the Twitter handle #iHatetheWait for people to register complaints about security lines. The group is encouraging passengers to sign up for expedited screening, and some airlines allow customers to use frequent flier points to pay for PreCheck enrollment, spokeswoman Jean Medina said.

She said even PreCheck lines can be long, but not nearly as long as regular lines.

The trade group wants TSA to look at its staffing model to see what can be done better. "With a $5.6 billion budget, we think they have the resources," Medina said.

In a statement, TSA said its focus is security, and the U.S. transportation system remains a "high-value target for terrorists."

"Traveler security is TSA's first priority, and we remain intensely focused on our important mission," the statement said.

TSA also continues to push its PreCheck option and plans to open an enrollment center at Midway next week, McCarthy said.

Chicago Tribune's Lolly Bowean contributed.

mwisniewski@tribpub.com

Twitter @marywizchicago

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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