Orlando airport works to reduce time spent waiting in security lines

Sentinel Staff Writer

April 17, 2008

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Passenger traffic continues to grow at Orlando International Airport -- and travelers are spending more time than ever waiting in security lines.

So much so that the top security official at OIA said Wednesday the crowds are overwhelming airport checkpoints almost daily.

"We've been exceeding capacity on a regular basis," Lee Kair, the Transportation Security Administration's federal security director for Orlando, said as part of a presentation to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

Airport and security officials are trying to catch up.

Construction is under way to expand the number of security lanes from 15 to 18 in the airport's west hall, where passengers on American Airlines, US Airways and Continental Airlines, among others, pass through. The extra lanes should be open within two months.

The airport is also working on plans to add lanes in the east hall. The number of security lanes there will increase from 15 to between 19 and 24, depending on the final configuration.

The longer lines are an extension of skyrocketing growth at OIA, the busiest passenger airport in Florida. The airport said Wednesday that it handled nearly 3.1 million travelers in February, up nearly 11 percent from the same month a year ago.

It was the third straight month of 3 million or more fliers at OIA -- the first time the airport has crossed that threshold for those months. Final tallies haven't yet come in for March, but "I'm sure it will be well over 3 million passengers as well," airport Executive Director Steve Gardner said.

The growth has propelled Orlando International past airports in Detroit and Minneapolis to rank as the 11th-busiest in the country by passenger traffic, according to the Airports Council International. It is also now the 21st-busiest airport in the world.

The added checkpoint lanes were included in a broader presentation on new security initiatives at OIA, where earlier this month agents spotted and arrested a man accused of carrying components of a pipe bomb in his luggage.

The programs include the addition of behavioral experts trained to spot suspicious travelers, and "bomb appraisal experts" who can be called in to screen flagged luggage. Kair said TSA recently authorized three new canine units for Orlando that will feature dogs trained to scan luggage and cargo before it is loaded onto an airplane.

As part of the presentation Wednesday, airport officials also presented awards to three of the behavioral specialists involved in the earlier arrest: Cleveland Laycock, Frank Skowronski and Jose Zengottia.

"They just did a fantastic job that day," Kair said.

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