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Security waits at Syracuse Airport remain short as improvements seen nationwide

Tom Magnarelli
Items confiscated by TSA at Hancock International Airport since Oct. 2015. This is one of 13 boxes filled with items.

As more people travel this summer, the Transportation Security Administration is continuing to step up its efforts to get people through security checkpoints quickly and safely. Although flying has been relatively smooth in upstate New York, the TSA has had to drastically change its operations nationwide.

TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein dumped out a box of knives onto a table at Syracuse's Hancock International Airport.

“Prohibited items people have brought to the checkpoint in Syracuse; every kind of knife in the book," Farbstein said. "Kitchen knives, you see pocket knives and then there’s the machete. There’s no reason you need a machete on an aircraft.”

Officials at Hancock Airport said contrary to some national headlines, their security operations have been running well thanks to a larger checkpoint, TSA pre-check screenings and a good working relationship the airport has with TSA. But Farbstein said that has not been the case everywhere.

“We were seeing an increase in the number of travelers this spring and at the same time over the past few years we had decreased the number of slots available for TSA officers," Farbstein said. "It’s easy arithmetic. We had more travelers and we had fewer TSA officers."  

Bart Johnson the federal security director for TSA in upstate NY said $34 million from Congress helped alleviate some stress off the system.

“It allowed the hiring, very quickly, of additional staff," Johnson said. "It allowed for the significant increase in the payment of overtime so a lot of the gaps that existed before Memorial Day were closed.”

Farbstein said there are advantages to those increases.

"You've got a workforce that is already trained, they're already here, they already know how it work," Farbstein said. "People who are half-time are very interested in going full-time. When you do that it helps decrease the attrition because the attrition rate is a little higher for part-time than full-time."

Last year, the inspector general’s office issued a report that said the TSA was not handling airport screening equipment properly which Johnson said changed the direction of the agency.

"We've noticed a significant change as it relates to detection," Johnson said. "That is part in parcel to why things have slowed down a little bit because the officers are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing, they're trying to identify the threat."

To speed things along in the security line, the TSA recommends that travelers wear slip on shoes, only bring liquids up to 3.4 ounces and if you insist on bringing a machete, make sure it is packed in a checked bag.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.