TAMPA, Fla. — When everything is running normally, the security checkpoint design at Tampa International Airport makes TSA screenings a breeze.
“I think this is one of the best airports around,” said Seth Gusman, a frequent business traveler.
One of the airport’s big design assets is that each airside has its own security operation. So, lines don’t get nearly as long as they do at airports where the TSA checkpoint bottlenecks in one centralized spot.
“Yeah, I do believe that is an advantage for you,” said passenger John Ridgway, who deals with delays in his home town of Chicago.
The problem is that things aren’t normal right now. So, if the government shutdown continues, could TIA’s design, which is usually a blessing, arguably become a curse?
“We are more vulnerable at airports like Tampa, just because we have the staff fragmented at all the different air sides,” said 10News Aviation Consultant Mark Weinkrantz.
Weinkrantz points out airports like Miami, Houston and Baltimore are already reducing the number of TSA checkpoint lanes. But if Tampa International were to try to reduce lanes -- shutting down one of its checkpoints to fully staff another, that could impact an entire concourse.
“It is different. Because you don’t have one central point. You have it fragmented at each different side. And they will be manned for that particular Airside,” said Weinkrantz. “If there aren’t enough people to staff it -- if they cannot operate a security checkpoint, in theory, yes they could just shut it down and say we don’t have enough people and those flights will not be leaving at this time with passengers.
“We’ll hold up departures, or we will open up security in 45 minutes when we can get people over from the other Airsides. That would be a worst-case scenario.”
When the shutdown ends, most federal employees will receive back pay for the days they had to work without receiving a check. But some workers have refused to show up on principle or have been forced to work other jobs part-time jobs to make ends meet.
Passengers were already noticing TSA slowdowns at other airports.
“There was only one lane open where I came from in Baltimore, so it just makes sense it’s going to take longer than expected because of fewer people working,” Gusman said.
Tampa’s only option in the event of a more drastic work shortage, says Weinkrantz, might be to rotate reduced TSA staff from concourse to concourse during peak arrival and departure periods. That could create huge delays.
As the number of TSA workers calling-out nationally has increased from 4 percent to 10 percent this week, security wait times at TIA were steadily increasing too, from about 11 minutes last Sunday to 28 minutes a week later.
That was a longer than the delay than JFK, LAX, Chicago O’Hare, even Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It was also one minute less than what many consider the benchmark of delays, LaGuardia Airport.
“I thought it was busier than New York,” said passenger Andrea Ribero, who had passed through TSA security in both Tampa and New York. “It’s true. It was busier,” she said.
Airport offices were closed for the holiday Monday, but officially, Tampa International has not reported any major slowdowns. On Tuesday, the head of the local federal labor union will be at the airport with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, asking political leaders in Washington to end what has now become the longest government shut down in U.S. history.
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