Outgoing passengers at Cyril E. King Airport waited for several hours for flights Wednesday due to delays in passenger screening by the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration.
The delays were due to temporarily relocating the passenger screening area to make room for repairs to that part of the airport. Repairs are expected to take a couple of weeks, so the V.I. Port Authority is urging passengers to come to the airport “several hours early,” just in case.
“The screening process is not being done with machines. It is being done manually and they did not have enough screeners for the number of passengers,” VIPA spokesperson Monifa Brathwaite said Wednesday afternoon.
VIPA announced the temporary change Tuesday, asking passengers to come three to four hours before their flights, but not everyone got the word, Brathwaite said.
Several people contacted the Source asserting there was some sort of TSA strike or work slowdown, due to the TSA workers not liking their new location. However, neither the TSA nor VIPA could confirm that.
“The Port Authority has not been notified of any strike and has no knowledge that there has been any strike,” Brathwaite said when asked about the reports. She contacted officials at the airport and confirmed there were long delays due to manual processing of passengers.
“I was able to confirm there was no employee strike at TSA; there was an employee shortage,” Brathwaite said. The shortage predates the change in pre-clearance location, as some employees left the territory after the storms and have not yet returned, according to Brathwaite. The shortage, combined with slower, manual procedures, led to the delays, she said.
Passengers also reported some flights leaving with few or no passengers.
An American Airlines official, who did not want to be named, confirmed at least one flight left without some passengers, due to the delays in passenger and luggage processing.
“We had complaints from customers calling in. They did try to hold a flight as long as possible. But some passengers were not able to make it onboard,” the official said. Asked for an official comment, the individual referred questions to the American Airlines media desk. An email from the media desk said no flights left empty.
“Thank you for reaching out. But both of our flights today left with passengers,” an unnamed American Airlines official said in an email Wednesday.
The TSA confirmed there were delays but media relations officials had no knowledge of any intentional work slowdown or strike.
“I have not heard of any strike,” a TSA media contact said when reached by phone. She did not give her name but said she would investigate and have someone call. TSA spokesperson Lisa Farber later emailed, saying TSA was continuing to process passengers but using different methods, which are slower.
“Due to the detection of mold in the terminal, TSA is using alternative screening methods to ensure the safety of passengers and TSA employees. We appreciate the patience of travelers and hope that they understand that we are taking these precautionary measures for the benefit of all who need to be in that area of the terminal,” Farber said.
Brathwaite said the work on the airport will mean delays for a couple of weeks.
“King airport is an active facility and this is part of the process as we repair the terminal. Relocation of services is necessary so we can facilitate the repairs and still allow travel simultaneously,” she said, adding that VIPA “sincerely apologizes for the delays.”
VIPA Assistant Executive Director Damian Cartwright issued a statement Tuesday announcing the change and asking passengers to arrive three to four hours before their flight, to allow for a slower passenger screening process. Cartwright said the work should take 10 days and should be complete by mid December. Brathwaite gave the same time frame when contacted Wednesday.
“We just want to remind people to arrive early to allow enough time,” Brathwaite said. “We still had some late arrivals and it is really important to help this entire process to arrive as early as possible for your flights.”