Wait Times Declining at Richmond International

Fares aren't the only thing dropping at Richmond's airport. The time is takes to get through security screening also is declining, according to federal figures.

The average waiting time this year is 2 minutes, 6 seconds, down from last year's average of 2 minutes, 14 seconds, according to Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport security.

For peak boarding periods - typically early morning - the average has remained steady at 7 minutes, 33 seconds this year, compared with 7 minutes, 30 seconds last year. Airport officials said it's a good performance, especially since Richmond International is rapidly expanding in both space and numbers of passengers.

"We want it to be 10 minutes or less," said Jon Mathiasen, president and chief executive officer of Richmond International. "For the majority of time, we're there."

One exception: Monday mornings, when many travelers leave town on business. The TSA said travelers can wait up to 27 minutes at 6 a.m. on Mondays at one of the airport's two security checkpoints.

Mathiasen said some relief is expected at Concourse A, home to US Airways, which carried nearly 26 percent of all local air travelers in April, making it the busiest airline here.

The airport plans to complete construction by the fall at that checkpoint, allowing the TSA to install another metal detector. That should speed the screening process with two fully equipped lanes.

Concourse B opened a third screening lane in March to accommodate new traffic from JetBlue Airways.

The passenger growth from JetBlue and AirTran Airways, both low-fare carriers, led to a 22.3 percent jump to 286,745 customers in April from the same month last year.

Airport officials say price competition and lower fares are behind the surging numbers.

What does all of this mean for the people flying out of Richmond?

"People need to get to the airport an hour ahead of time," said Thomas W. Davis Jr., the TSA chief in Richmond. "And if it's Monday morning, and sometimes on Thursday, you have to be a little sooner."

A recent USA Today survey of the nation's top 80 airports showed passengers made it through security lines in 10 minutes - the TSA's goal - 92 percent of the time from Dec. 15, 2005, through April 30.

Richmond, the 82nd busiest airport based on passenger loads, wasn't on the list.

The newspaper noted that wait times tend to vary widely from airport to airport, depending on staffing levels and building designs.

Davis said he is authorized to fill 122 full-time equivalent positions, adding, "We're still hiring." Some of his screeners have left to take other jobs, while others have transferred to other airports.

"We still need more people," Davis said. "It's a scheduling challenge."

Monday morning jams

Departing business travelers on Monday mornings often create the longest lines at airport screening areas, according to Transportation Security Administration officials. Here's a snapshot of some wait times between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. at airports used by Richmond-area travelers.

* Richmond: average 7 minutes; maximum, 27 minutes

* Newport News/Williamsburg: average 5 minutes; maximum, 11 minutes

* Norfolk: average, 8 minutes; maximum, 19 minutes

* Reagan Washington National: average, 11 minutes; maximum, 23 minutes

* Washington Dulles: average, 13 minutes; maximum, 34 minutes

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