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The airport's new math: Fewer security screeners + more travelers = longer waits

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Taking off on a spring break trip? Be ready to wait.

While airports are for people who are going places – those long lines at MSP's new security checkpoints aren't going anywhere soon.

But at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport the $17 million project that consolidated six smaller checkpoints into two larger ones does not really seem to be the main reason travelers are waiting longer to get through security.

Airport officials say the biggest factor is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has fewer people screening passengers and their carry-on bags, even as the number of travelers is growing.

The CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission complained about the situation in a letter to TSA administrator Peter Neffenger, the Associated Press reports.

Jeffrey Hamiel wrote that the trends of 10 percent more passengers and 15 percent fewer screeners since 2011 "...are a recipe for unacceptable customer service. We've reached that point at MSP."

The Star Tribune says waiting times that sometimes creep over 40 minutes are twice what they were in the past.

The newspaper also notes that airlines – in their quest to eliminate empty seats – are offering fewer flights, which means more people trying to pass through security at the same time.

Savings and security over speed

While the Twin Cities plead with Washington to send more screeners, the request may fall on deaf ears.

To contain costs, Congress has capped the number of TSA screeners at 42,800 which is fewer than the 50,000 the agency had a few years ago, the Associated Press reports.

What's more, the fewer screeners are being retrained to be more deliberate, not faster.

Last summer auditors with the Homeland Security Department were able to sneak mock explosives and weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of their attempts, which led to the ouster of Neffenger's predecessor as head of the TSA.

In testimony on Capitol Hill this week, Neffenger told senators the agency had lapsed into focusing on "efficiency over effectiveness" and is now emphasizing its core mission of security, not speed.

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