SEA-TAC INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- Sea-Tac Airport officials say the additional 90 workers to help with passenger security screenings is reducing wait times by a third in just the few days they've been on the job. Passengers are noticing.
"I had experiences before that took a long time, that was a couple months ago," says Paymaneh, a Bellevue woman who didn't want to give her last name.
She said she waited 90 minutes in security lines to make a flight to Las Vegas. Late last week when she flew to San Francisco she said she flew through SeaTac security lines in just minutes. "This time it was much better. It wasn't long at all."
The big chanGe at Sea-Tac: adding 90 private workers to the payroll temporarily. They wear white shirts instead of the TSA officers who wear the blue uniforms. These new workers don't do screening, but instead are working to streamline the screening process.
Sea-Tac officials say this frees up TSA officers to focus on doing what they're trained to do: screening passengers, their luggage and assessing terrorist threats. So, these new workers do what are considered customer service jobs like directing passengers to the right line and moving empty conveyor belt bins from one side of the metal detectors to the other.
With less than a week under their belts with these new workers, Sea-Tac officials say wait times have been reduced from 30 minutes at peak times to about 18 minutes. The cost isn't cheap -- $3.3 million to help with Sea-Tac's busy season that goes from June through September. That's when the airport screens about 125,000 passengers every day going through the security lines.
Tuesday afternoon, Port of Seattle commissioners heard from TSA officers concerned about the training and background checks of these new hires.
"We're talking about trading federal security for profit," says TSA officer Don Andrews. "And I think that's a disturbing scenario and it's quite unacceptable."
Managers at Sea-Tac say these new hires face the exact same background checks of any other airport employee. Commissioners at the Port of Seattle are considering privatizing nearly all aspects of the security screening process much like San Francisco, Orlando and about 19 other mostly smaller-sized airports around the country.
And with the federal head of TSA security now put on administrative leave, some travelers see a light at the end of the tunnel.
"I'm optimistic," says Aaron Guerrero, who arrived at Sea-Tac from San Diego. "I think after someone [high up] was let go at TSA, there's changes coming along."
There are changes coming to Sea-Tac. Passengers soon should see the tables for removing things like coats, shoes and other items appearing in the line well before you get to the metal detectors. The hope is that this change will also help streamline wait times.
Sea-Tac is also pushing for more people to apply for TSA pre-check status. But the wait for that program is also long. When we checked on Tuesday, the soonest available time to go through that interview process was July 9.