US & World

Officials expect longer lines at LAX thanks to sequestration cuts

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official scans travelers at Terminal Five of John F. Kennedy Airport on Dec. 23, 2011 in New York City.
A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official scans travelers at Terminal Five of John F. Kennedy Airport on Dec. 23, 2011 in New York City.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

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At a breakfast in Washington D.C. sponsored by Politico, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said some airports had already begun to see longer lines due to sequestration over the weekend.

When asked which airports were effected, Secretary Napolitano said  “I want to say O’Hare, I want to say LAX, and I want to say Atlanta, but I’d have to check.”   She also said that her department is starting to send furlough notices to employees.

But neither her office nor representatives of the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection would provide specific details about delays at LAX.  In statements, both agencies warned of coming drops in staffing levels and cuts to overtime.  

From the TSA:

With TSA staffing levels decreasing over time, we expect that during busy travel periods wait times exceeding 30-40 minutes could double at nearly all of the largest airports. In addition, passengers who schedule their travel outside of peak flight schedules and plan to arrive close to their scheduled flight time may see their wait times now reach 30 minutes or more.

From the Customs and Border Protection regional office:

Under sequestration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not be able to maintain its required staffing levels at our ports of entry.  CBP will focus its resources on its core mission areas, operating in a way that is least disruptive to the facilitation of lawful travel and trade while not compromising our security mission; however, itineraries should be adjusted to account for unexpected delays. 

A statement from the national media relations office of Customs and Border Protection did provide details about the effects of staffing cuts at the top two international gateway airports:

At John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, CBP had approximately 56 flights with wait times in excess of 2 hours, and 14 flights over 3 hours. Miami International Airport (MIA) reported 51 flights over 2 hours, and 4 flights approached/exceeded 3 hours. These wait times are not typical for this time period, and are related to decreased booth staffing.

At the Politico breakfast, which marked the Department of Homeland Security's 10th anniversary, Secretary Napolitano told travelers to get to airports earlier than normal.

"There’s only so much we can do with personnel," she said.  "And please don’t yell at the customs officers or TSA officers. They are not responsible for sequester."

The major airlines said that, so far, their operations are running smoothly.