Anticipating a Thanksgiving travel surge, federal authorities are increasing security personnel and opening additional screening lanes at Chicago airports in an attempt to minimize security-related delays.
The city of Chicago expects more than 2.8 million travelers to pass through its two airports during the holiday travel period that began Friday, causing O'Hare and Midway to operate with their full staffs of TSA screeners -- a rarity at other times of the year.
"It's all hands on deck," said TSA spokeswoman Lara Uselding. "Leave is not approved for the busiest days of the year and overtime is used to ensure further coverage."
During the holiday rush, O'Hare has 1,382 TSA screeners working different shifts and all 10 of its security checkpoints open. City aviation officials project Monday will be the busiest travel day of the year there.
At Midway, where officials project the busiest travel day of the year there will be Sunday, 293 screeners will be working, with six open lanes feeding into its single security checkpoint.
Around the country, security line wait times are down slightly. On Monday, the average peak wait time at the nation's 40 busiest airports was 11.8 minutes, a 2 percent decrease from last year. But that's not necessarily because of TSA measures, said Air Traveler's Association president David Stempler.
"What we've been seeing around the country is that the lines have not been that long at the security checkpoints," Stempler said. "I think everyone has either gotten the word out early to the passengers [about delays] or everyone is at the airport so early, and they're just moving through efficiently."
Tuesday's delays at O'Hare and Midway had more to do with the rain and fog that settled over Chicago then security malaise. Poor weather caused delays of nearly two hours on some arriving flights to O'Hare and of 15 minutes to an hour on certain inbound and outbound Midway flights.
The news doesn't get any better for Thanksgiving-eve travelers. The National Weather Service issued a snow advisory for the Chicago area from 5 p.m. today through 3 a.m. Thursday.
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AMERICA'S BEST AIRPORTS
Travelers waylaid by long delays are better off at Midway than at O'Hare, according to the 2007 Zagat Airlines Survey.
In an online survey of 7,498 voters conducted from late September to early October, Midway was ranked 11th best among major American airports -- based on a combination of delays experienced, business and leisure amenities, and food options. Those voters ranked O'Hare near the bottom -- 20th out of a total of 27 ranked.
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