Getting through security at Mitchell is taking longer


July 14--A lot more people are flying out of Mitchell International Airport. And that means Milwaukee-area residents have more choices to more non-stop destinations, along with more competitive fares.

But there's a downside. It's going to take you longer to go through a process that air travelers love to hate: the security check.

The time it takes for passengers to move through that gate -- shoes off, with liquids and gels in those ubiquitous 3-ounce bottles -- has increased substantially this summer, said Pat Rowe, airport spokeswoman.

Mitchell International, like most airports, sees more travelers during the peak vacation season. But the airport this year has seen a large increase in departures, thanks mainly to increased service from AirTran Airways, which has made Milwaukee its northern hub, and Southwest Airlines, which began flying from Milwaukee last fall.

The number of passengers flying in and out of Mitchell International increased 36% during the first four months of 2010, compared with the same period last year, according to the latest available figures.

But the number of Transportation Security Administration employees working at the airport has not kept pace with the increased passenger count, Rowe said. Airport officials have discussed the issue with agency officials, she said.

"They are in a hiring mode right now," Rowe said.

But, she added: "The hiring process is not fast. They have to train security staff."

The agency is seeking applications to fill what it calls "many vacancies" in Milwaukee, according to its . Agency spokesman Jim Fotenos declined to specify the number of new officers being hired at Mitchell. The agency tracks whether waiting times exceed 20 minutes at airports throughout the country. Mitchell International "rarely exceeds that threshold," Fontenos said. The agency doesn't have more specific information regarding the increase in wait times in 2010. The times to check through security tend to be higher on Mondays and Fridays, Rowe said. Mondays are heavy days for business travelers, and Fridays are popular days for leisure departures. Complaints are minimal While passengers are waiting longer, there hasn't been a big increase in complaints to the airlines, said spokesmen for Mitchell's busiest carriers.

"We haven't received significant complaints or questions," said Christopher White, spokesman for AirTran, the airport's second-largest airline.

Frontier Airlines and Midwest Airlines, which are being merged under the Frontier name, are suggesting that passengers allow for extra time at Mitchell and other airports, said spokesman Carlo Bertolini.

That means arriving at the airport two hours before the flight is scheduled to leave, said Bertolini. Frontier/Midwest, owned by Republic Airways Holdings Inc., is the largest carrier in Milwaukee.

Southwest customers haven't complained about the lines, but airline managers hope to see more security officers hired soon for Mitchell, said Brad Hawkins, Southwest spokesman.

"We share their interest in getting those lines down," he said.

Navigating the airport

Here are some tips from the Transportation Security Administration for getting through airport security checks faster:

--Have your boarding pass and ID ready.

--Wear slip-on shoes for faster removal, and avoid heavy jewelry that can set off metal detectors.

--Prepare a quart-sized, clear plastic, zip-top bag of liquids and gels, in 3-ounce containers, before arriving at the airport.

--Avoid packing laptop computers, video game consoles and other full-size electronics in your checked baggage. However, be prepared to remove them from your carry-on bag for screening.

--Pack coats and jackets in your checked baggage when possible. They must go through the X-ray machine for inspection.

--Undeveloped film should go in your carry-on bag. You will able to declare film that is faster than 800-speed for physical inspection to avoid having it X-rayed.