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The Transportation Security Administration says it is geared up and ready to help Salt Lake City International Airport avoid the extra-long lines at security checkpoints that have recently plagued other large U.S. airports.
The agency gave that assurance Wednesday to an anxious Airport Advisory Board as the busy summer travel season is about to take off with Memorial Day weekend.
"I feel we are prepared," Ron Malin, federal security director for TSA in Utah, told the board. "We are doing everything possible to ensure an efficient summer," although he said some long lines are expected.
"Our summer plan goes into effect tomorrow, when we expect 21,000 through our checkpoints on Monday and Tuesday of this holiday season," he said.
That's the equivalent of the entire population of Farmington going through Salt Lake City International Airport checkpoints on those days.
Waits of more than three hours have been reported at larger airports, such as John F. Kennedy International in New York City and O'Hare International in Chicago. It has caused hundreds to miss flights and some to spend nights on cots in airports.
Maureen Riley, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, told her board that the problem developed as federal budgets limited how many workers TSA can hire. "It just hasn't kept pace with the 14 percent growth in passengers on average in recent years in the nation, and it's now trying to catch up."
Malin said TSA generally has been able to keep out of the news about long security waits in Salt Lake City by aggressively identifying when lines are likely to be long, and staffing as best as possible to meet demand.
It is using some unusual methods to help, including deploying canine teams to sniff for explosives.
This "essentially turns that checkpoint entirely into pre-check," where passengers do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets, Malin said. Passengers normally must sign up for a background check and pay a fee to enjoy such expedited "pre-check" screening processes.
"The throughput rates go up dramatically when a dog is working," he said. But "they are limited to working about an hour at a time, then they need some downtime."
Malin said Utah is allocated four such canine teams. It currently has two, but TSA is temporarily reassigning one of them to Seattle during June to help expected large crowds there.
He said he expects to have a third dog team begin operating in Salt Lake City in July and a fourth in late fall after it finishes training. "They are considered a regional asset," warning that TSA could move them to other airports temporarily as needed.
Riley added that city airport officials work to help with such things as directing passengers to other terminals when security lines are long in one terminal, but not another.
"I know some of our airline partners already have offered to help over the summer with resources," she said. "I think we have circled the wagons and have a plan."
The TSA also recently provided, at the request of The Salt Lake Tribune, data about how long security lines have been at Salt Lake City International in recent years.
In 2015, the average peak-time wait was 10.85 minutes down slightly from 10.94 minutes in 2014.
TSA said that on 36 days last year, the average peak-time wait exceeded 20 minutes.
Lorie Dankers, regional TSA spokeswoman, said that peak times at the Salt Lake City airport tend to be between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. She said the peak travel periods tend to be the month of March and mid-July to mid-August.
Salt Lake City International ranked No. 1 nationally for on-time departures in March among the nation's 31 largest airports, with an on-time departure rate of 87.6 percent, the board was told.
Malin said passengers can help reduce wait times by reviewing lists of banned items and double-checking to ensure they have left such items at home.
Last month, Malin showed the board a collection of recently seized items that included inert grenades, handguns, toy guns (that look like the real thing), ammunition, knives (many designed to look like something else, including credit cards), clubs, hammers, batons and a variety of tools.