NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) --The TSA, the beleaguered airport security agency plagued by enormous wait times as of late, is about to get a billion dollars more than they asked for to help them cut down on long lines at airports.
A Senate committee on Thursday approved more staff and resources, the same day the agency unveiled some of the ways it hopes to shorten wait times at the nation's 20 busiest airports, three of which are in the New York area.
After months of dealing with manpower issues, the TSA is asking for patience on the cusp of the holiday weekend as airlines chip in millions of dollars to pick up the slack. They also asked Congress for help.
"We've gone to Congress and asked them to allow us to hire officers, to not reduce our budget for staffing," the TSA's Lisa Farber said.
But until that help can arrive, the airlines are chipping in. Delta alone is committing $5 million to adds its own staff to check IDs and keep lines moving to free up TSA agents for actual screenings.
"We have to be proactive," Delta's Henry Kuykendall said. "And that's why we partnered with the administration and said, look, we know you've got some things that you're working on. But in the interim, for the summer, how can we help you help us?"
It is all necessary because the TSA cut staffing by 10 percent amid predictions its Pre-Check expedited screening program would reduce the load, but not enough people signed up. And that led to longer lines.
Amid the turmoil, it turns out your cell phone may be helping things along. For the past year, Delta and its landlord, JFK Terminal 4, have been trying high-tech sensors that pick up signals from passengers' phones and follow their progress, from beginning to end, at every step of the security process. Computers figure out the average wait time and display it on a monitor for all to see.
"And if the time gets to a point that we consider to be not bearable...TSA can move folks around from different terminals," Kuykendall said. "Information is always key, and it's powerful. When it's dynamic and you can see it, you can react faster to the process."
The TSA says it will add 768 new screeners by mid-June, with most of them being sent to Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and other hubs. The agency also has increased the use of overtime in Chicago and other major airports, converted some part-time workers to full-time status and increased the use of bomb-sniffing dogs to help with security lines. And it is launching an incident command center that will track daily screening operations and shift officers, canine units and other resources to shorten lines at the busiest times.
The TSA expects to screen 740 million passengers this year, a 15 percent increase over 2013.