YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


New Airport Screeners Quicken Pace

After a slow start, federal employees at John Wayne have improved operations.

October 24, 2002|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

After a rocky start plagued by equipment malfunctions and long lines for John Wayne Airport passengers, federal baggage screeners have improved operations since assuming responsibility for security more than a week ago, airport officials said Wednesday.

Nevertheless, authorities still advise travelers to arrive two hours before departure to ensure they get through check-in procedures and security screening in plenty of time to make their flights.

"Things are getting better and better; every day the process is becoming faster," airport spokeswoman Ann McCarley said. "But we cannot guarantee that the terminals will not be crowded."

About 150 screeners hired by the Transportation Security Administration reported for work Oct. 16 at passenger checkpoints in the airport's terminals. They replaced a private security company that had handled screening for the 7.8 million passengers that annually pass through Orange County's only commercial airfield.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta inaugurated the change, saying the more thoroughly trained screeners would provide "world-class security and world-class service" to airline passengers.

On Oct. 17, a computer malfunction at a baggage X-ray machine, inexperienced workers and a busy travel day combined to create long delays for passengers at screening areas between 7:30 and 9 a.m.

Hundreds of people jammed the terminals and stood in lines that snaked through the check-in areas and walkways. Some flights were delayed or took off half-filled because travelers had to wait an hour or more to get through security.

Federal officials said the computer glitch took about five hours to fix. The situation was exacerbated, they said, because the 150 screeners were beginning 60 hours of required on-the-job training.

"It was like anyone else during their first day on the job," said Dave Steigman, a spokesman for the federal security agency. "Things are going much smoother. We have not had any formal complaints to our customer-service unit."

Federal officials plan to take over security at the nation's 429 airports that provide scheduled service. So far, they have assigned screeners to 190 facilities. At John Wayne Airport, the security administration wants to place an additional 40 or so workers and install a high-tech device to check for explosives by December.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, John Wayne Airport has steadily recovered from a dramatic decline in air travel. Over the past six months, passenger volumes have been slightly ahead of last year's for the same time period.

As airports have returned to more normal operations, federal and airport officials say many passengers no longer are arriving early to make their flights. They recommend that travelers get to the airport 1 1/2 to 2 hours before departure.

"People have resorted to getting to the airport at the last minute," Steigman said. "You should get there as early as you can because we are going to be painstaking in our inspections."

Los Angeles Times Articles