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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

City Council approves money to ease bottleneck at Mid-Continent Airport’s TSA checkpoints

By Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle

Work begins late next month on a fourth Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint at Mid-Continent Airport that should help bottlenecked passengers avoid missing early morning flights.

The Wichita City Council approved without discussion Tuesday morning $110,000 in airport-generated revenues for terminal improvements to address persistent customer and airline complaints about the bottleneck when boarding flights before 7 a.m.

Passengers have been delayed by as long as 30 minutes, or twice as long as normal for the early morning, said Valerie Wise, the airport’s air services and business development manager. As a result, the number of passengers missing flights is on the rise, she and city officials said.

City officials, who are banking on a new terminal opening for business in three years, are hesitant to spend more money on the current facility but acknowledge that the boarding delays must be addressed now.

“There will certainly be added demand with Southwest,” Wise said, “and it’s important we be ready for that.”

The number of airline seats departing Mid-Continent during the morning rush increased by 92 percent between January and March, according to Victor White, the city’s director of airports.

As a result, in March, the average and peak wait times at the checkpoint increased by 57 percent and 117 percent, respectively, compared with January. In March, Mid-Continent had screening waits exceed 30 minutes for the first time since 2007. More than half of the wait times between 5 and 6:30 a.m. daily exceeded 10 minutes, with a third exceeding 20 minutes.

Wise said passengers and airlines alike have complained about missed flights, underscoring the ongoing needs for fliers to arrive two hours prior to flights at the airport.

“That’s a message that we think we’ve gotten to all the passengers, but we haven’t,” she said. “We can’t have people missing flights. There are times that the line gets back to the second baggage carousel, and that’s a long line.”

The city will spend unused budgeted money from the 2011 renovation of the east data center in the existing terminal on the project, which includes reconfigured glass partitions, electrical and data connection modifications and relocated surveillance cameras. Federal officials will cover the costs of new staffing and equipment for the new lane and upgrades to equipment at the existing three lanes. Airport technical staff has already begun preparatory work, Wise said, but the construction begins in late July.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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