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Screening Bottleneck Bogs Down John Wayne

October 18, 2002|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A computer malfunction combined with inexperienced screeners caused some people to miss their morning flights at John Wayne Airport on Thursday, one day after the federal government took over the airport's security.

"On the north side of the terminal the lines went back as far as the doors that go to the parking lot, which is a long way," said Skip Williams, security director for the federal Transportation Security Administration, which began providing security at the airport Wednesday.

As a result, he said, passengers going through security checkpoints from 7:30 to 9 a.m. faced waits of up to an hour, causing some to miss their flights. "We don't know how many," Williams said.

According to one report, only 64 of the 115 passengers booked on an American Airlines flight to San Francisco were able to get through security in time to board their plane. As the plane took off nearly half empty, one passenger said, its captain apologized, citing security delays.

A spokeswoman for the airlines could not confirm those numbers but said anyone missing a flight is routinely booked on a later flight. "I understand that several of our flights took delays to accommodate passengers who were late," Tara Baten said, "but we can't hold a flight indefinitely."

Williams said the problem was caused by the breakdown of a computer controlling the X-ray machine in one of the airport's four security screening lanes, which took about five hours to fix.

The situation was exacerbated, he said, by the fact that it was only the second day on the job for 150 federal baggage screeners beginning 60 hours of required on-the-job training.

"You have to understand that this is a brand-new force still in the training mode," Williams said.

The training began Wednesday as U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta inaugurated the use of federal screeners at the airport and announced that high-tech equipment to check baggage for explosives would be in place by December.

To accommodate future delays, airport officials said, they would reiterate suggestions that passengers arrive at least two hours before their scheduled departures.

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