Delays likely as extra airport screening begins
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
Honolulu International Airport's first day of federal baggage screening went smoothly yesterday, but officials are warning passengers to expect some delays in coming days and weeks.
"We're asking interisland passengers to arrive at least two hours before their scheduled flight during the New Year's weekend," Aloha Airlines spokesman Stu Glauberman said yesterday. Previously, the airline had suggested passengers arrive 60 to 90 minutes before departure.
Passengers on United Airlines flights yesterday morning became the first in Honolulu to have all their checked baggage scrutinized by newly hired screeners from the federal Transportation Security Administration.
"For the first day, it wasn't too bad," said Sidney Hayakawa, head of federal security at the airport. "The first flight got off on time."
TSA is using more than 300 newly hired personnel in Honolulu to meet a congressional mandate that all checked bags be screened by Dec. 31. Passengers on other airlines will begin to have all their checked luggage screened in the next few days, he said.
The screeners received 40 hours of classroom training and, since yesterday, at least 60 hours of on-the-job training, Hayakawa said.
Each checked bag is screened twice, once by an X-ray type machine and once by an explosives-detection device. If either machine returns a positive reading, the bags are opened and searched by hand. Hayakawa said he did not know what percentage of bags had to be opened during the first screenings yesterday.
"There were a few complaints from passengers that we should have told them a little more about what to expect," Hayakawa said. "Not everybody got the word, but for the most part people packed correctly."
Glauberman said Aloha Airlines passengers last weekend experienced some serious delays while TSA agents trained for the baggage screening at the airport's interisland terminal.
The training did not result in any flights being delayed, but some passengers caught up in the screening missed their scheduled flights and had to be put on later ones, he said.
"With the new baggage screening and crowds at the parking lot during the busy holiday season, we're recommending that passengers arrive at least two hours early," Glauberman said. "Two and a half hours might be better."
Hayakawa said passengers should follow their airline's recommendation about when to arrive at the terminal.
The screening process will go smoother if travelers follow suggested TSA guidelines, he said. Among the suggestions are not packing any food in checked luggage, spreading out dense objects inside a bag and leaving gifts unwrapped and luggage unlocked.
A full list of TSA travel recommendations can be found at www.tsatraveltips.us.