International airports in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose took preparatory steps to try to keep delays to a minimum in the face of excruciatingly long waits at airline hubs across the country, and the strategy appears to be working.
Outside contractors were brought in to assist Transportation Security Administration inspectors to help direct passengers and manage the expected long lines at security posts in Oakland and San Francisco over over the Memorial Day weekend, according to the East Bay Times newspaper.
TSA officials said they were increasing employee overtime and adding to their stable of bomb-sniffing dogs.
The weekend’s air traffic is expected to be the second-highest since 2005, the newspaper said.
“(United employees) are assisting TSA in nonsecurity roles,” United spokesman Charlie Hobart told the newspaper.
“It frees up the TSA agents to focus specifically on security duties and helps passengers get through security in a reasonable amount of time,” he said.
Hobart said efforts were being made to improve airports in the Bay Area even though most passengers had not been forced to endure the kind of extended delays that have troubled other U.S. airports, like at O’Hare International in Chicago.
Security screening was taking between 45 minutes to an hour at Mineta San Jose International Airport, spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said, and additional screeners are on the way.
The airport is expecting a 16 percent gain in air travel this summer, she said.
But boarding has been smooth so far this season in San Francisco and Oakland.
“I’m not saying there have been no lines,” San Francisco International Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said, “but are we seeing anything on the order of what’s being reported at O’Hare? No.”
On Friday morning at Oakland International, passengers were breezing through mostly empty queues and airport employees said it was unusually quiet for the typically harried, travel-heavy holiday.
But travel out of Oakland is expected to be 8 percent busier this weekend than it was last year, and could be the start of a very busy summer travel season.
Airport spokeswoman Keonnis Taylor said the airport has had 29 consecutive months of rising passenger travel but had so far avoided multi-hour security waiting time.
To be extra-cautious, the airport did hire an outside security company to help out TSA screeners, Taylor said.
“We have the flexibility to ramp the program up or down depending on passenger loads and the number of lanes TSA has open during peak hours,” she said.
Still, many travelers leaving from Oakland were allowing themselves several extra hours to be sure they got through security in time to board their planes.
This weekend, Frank Ceniceros Jr. and his father, Frank Sr., of Hayward, Calif., arrived with three hours early and found themselves with hours to kill, the newspaper said.
But Kristan and Tim Witham came to the airport with a child in tow and thieir planned two-hours window was quickly evaporating.
The short line at Oakland International came as a very pleasant surprise.
“This looks really easy,” Kristan said.