By Jeffrey Dastin
(Reuters) - Airport screening delays have caused more than 70,000 American Airlines customers and 40,000 checked bags to miss their flights this year, an executive for the airline told a U.S. congressional subcommittee on Thursday.
A shortage of staff and a surge in air travelers have created a nightmare scenario for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with airport wait times in places like Chicago having stretched beyond two hours.
While the inconvenienced customers account for a fraction of the 63 million times that travelers boarded American-scheduled flights through April, the number of missed trips is likely wider when including large U.S. rivals Delta , United and Southwest .
TSA said Wednesday it is taking steps to shorten lines such as hiring more full-time officers but lacks the staffing to handle peak travel times this summer. What is more, extra travelers and fuller planes will make it harder for airlines to find an empty seat later on to give to customers who miss their flights.
"To say customers are agitated is putting it mildly," said
Kerry Philipovitch, American Airlines Group Inc Senior Vice President for Customer Experience.
American, the world's biggest airline, wants TSA to create a senior internal role focused on traveler concerns, Philipovitch told a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.
The request comes days after TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger shook up TSA's management, removing the head of security operations, Kelly Hoggan.
Philipovitch also recommended that TSA consider reinstating risk-based screening programs like one it canceled last year because of high-profile lapses.
In the program, officers trained to detect irregular behavior would pull unsuspicious travelers randomly into "PreCheck" lanes that can process people faster, as they do not remove their shoes and other belongings.
TSA has projected it will screen 740 million people at U.S. airports this year, some 15 percent more than in 2013 despite a 12 percent cut in its staff.
Addressing concern raised by small airports, the Homeland Security Committee introduced a bill Thursday to let local TSA make staffing decisions, rather than wait for higher-up approval before adding or rearranging lines.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York; editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Alistair Bell)