TSA says it’s “fully staffed” at Denver airport but warns of record summer travel

The Transportation Security Administration says it’s better equipped to deal with what’s expected to be a record summer for travel through Denver International Airport after contending with short-staffing last year.

But a TSA spokeswoman said during a media briefing Tuesday that travelers lining up at DIA’s three security checkpoints during the busiest times — including ahead of the upcoming Juneteenth holiday weekend — still will face long waits because of limited capacity.

Early mornings and late afternoons, in particular, have seen standard-screening lines at the south checkpoint backing up well beyond the 30-minute target set by the TSA, with wait times sometimes stretching past an hour.

DIA’s Memorial Day weekend passenger traffic eclipsed the same holiday weekend last year by 14%, DIA CEO Phil Washington told a City Council committee recently.

Even on more typical days at the start of this week, the total passengers processed through security at DIA on Sunday — about 75,000 — was up 6% over the total on the Sunday of the same week last year, according to the TSA. On Monday, 69,000 departing travelers were screened, or 2.5% more than last year.

Overall, Washington says passenger traffic at DIA is projected to reach about 74 million this year, which would be up nearly 7% from 2022’s annual total. Last year, DIA ranked as the third-busiest airport in the world.

“We have plans in place at airports throughout the country to be able to screen all of those travelers” this summer, TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said.

“But the most important message is we will never compromise security to get people through the security checkpoint.”

“Fully staffed,” but long lines inevitable

She said that unlike a year ago, TSA is now “fully staffed,” though still hiring. A coming pay boost — averaging nearly 30% — has improved retention, she said.

While long lines are inevitable at times, she said, extra staffing from other airports will help. So will the occasional use of explosive-detection dogs, which can speed up screening.

About backups that can wind back through the baggage claims, Dankers said: “The optics are bad, but the lines are moving.”

DIA’s basic security setup hasn’t changed, with most TSA PreCheck lanes located at the north main checkpoint while most standard screening lanes are at the south main checkpoint — the one nearest to the Westin DIA Hotel and transit center — and the checkpoint on the bridge to Concourse A.

The airport’s official advice to passengers this summer is to arrive a full two hours before a flight’s boarding time — not its departure time.

Recent changes to know about

Dankers gave an overview of some recent changes that will improve the experience for some passengers:

  • The PreCheck program, which costs $78 for a five-year membership, has raised the age limit from 12 to 17 for children and teenagers to take advantage of expedited screening if they’re traveling on the same flight booking as an adult member. Their boarding pass should have a PreCheck indicator.
  • DIA this month launched a security reservations system that allows travelers to make an appointment for standard screening on the A-Bridge up to three days in advance of their flight.
  • The use of newer 3D baggage scanners in some lines has resulted in different protocols, requiring travelers to pay attention. Unlike flat-scanners, the 3D scanners require all bags and items to be placed in bins, but passengers going through those lines — even in standard screening — can leave liquids and large electronics in their bags.
  • Several ID-check stations allow the use of digital state IDs, and DIA is among airports piloting facial-recognition scanners in the north checkpoint.
  • The north checkpoint’s access lane for PreCheck members who have disabilities or typically need hand-screening because of metal prosthetics has shifted to allow them the option of using a full body scanner, rather than a standard metal detector. The body scanner allows screening officers to pinpoint equipment or implants that set off alarms, allowing for a more targeted hand search, Dankers said.

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