May 16--Monday marked the first day of a new program at Orlando International Airport geared toward speeding up long security checkpoint lines before the official summer travel season kicks off with Memorial Day.
At a cost of about $2 million per year, the airport is paying for contractors to help Transportation Security Administration officers load baggage onto explosive-detection machines and perform other tasks so that the officers have more time to screen luggage and passengers.
"Certainly there was a noticeable difference in the [security] lines for that peak time," airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said of the program's start Monday morning, though she said the shorter lines could also be the result of lower traffic.
TSA spokesman Christopher White said the first day of the program went smoothly with TSA officers showing the contractors how to properly load the baggage into the SUV-sized machines, which are located near airline ticket counters.
"We do anticipate being able to reallocate some resources because of this," White said.
In recent months, lines at Orlando International exceeded 45 minutes during some peak times, prompting U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando, to complain to TSA Director Kip Hawley about a lack of staffing and inefficiencies in Orlando.
Hawley said the administration would consider paying for all or part of the contractors under a pilot program, but still has not made a final decision, White said.
In the meantime, Orlando airport officials became worried that long lines would cause headaches for summer travelers and create a public-relations nightmare, and pledged to spend airport money to hire the extra workers.
On Monday, 26 contractors from Prime Flight Aviation Services, a Nashville, Tenn.-based firm, started on the job.
Tim Archer, Prime Flight's regional manager, said he expects to increase the number of contractors to 90, with 30 people on each shift.
The baggage-handler contract is the first of its kind for Prime Flight in the 51 U.S. airports where it provides a number of contractors for skycap and other positions.
The company already has an Orlando staff of about 125, Archer said, mostly skycaps and wheelchair agents for Southwest and Continental airlines.
The workers are required to undergo a 10-year background check as well as drug screening.
Beth Kassab can be reached at 407-420-5448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.