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RDU plans to expand its security checkpoint again to deal with long morning lines

Long security lines at RDU frustrate travelers

Hundreds of passengers wait in a security line that stretches around the entire perimeter of the Terminal 2 ticketing area at Raleigh-Durham International Airport at about 6 a.m. on Thursday, June 13, 2019.
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Hundreds of passengers wait in a security line that stretches around the entire perimeter of the Terminal 2 ticketing area at Raleigh-Durham International Airport at about 6 a.m. on Thursday, June 13, 2019.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport plans to add two more lanes to the security checkpoint in Terminal 2 by this time next year, to try to reduce the long lines for morning flights.

RDU just added two lanes to the TSA checkpoint in Terminal 2 in May, bringing the total there to 12. But the growth in passengers, particularly for morning flights, has resulted in security lines that snake around the terminal’s ticketing hall, causing confusion and anxiety among passengers.

The lines are the result of significant passenger growth in the mornings; a quarter of the daily departures from RDU are scheduled to leave by 8 a.m., and airlines are using bigger planes on those flights to keep up with demand, says Michael Landguth, the airport’s president and CEO.

During the morning rush two years ago, about 1,800 passengers passed through the checkpoint each hour, said William Sandifer, the airport’s chief operating officer. By this summer, that number has grown to nearly 2,900 an hour.

“That’s significant. That’s what’s driving the long lines,” Sandifer told the airport’s authority Thursday. “Everybody funnels through the checkpoint.”

The airport built the two new security lanes in an unused space behind a wall adjacent to the checkpoint, at a cost of about $3 million. The two additional lanes it plans to build in the coming year would go in space now occupied by the Panopolis sandwich shop and would likely cost more, Sandifer said.

Beyond that, RDU’s options for expanding the checkpoint get more difficult, Sandifer said. Elevators, bathrooms and other impediments would preclude adding more lanes to the existing checkpoint, so the airport will have to consider adding another set on the other side of exit corridor, he said.

The long early-morning lines at RDU surprise many travelers, who don’t expect crowds at or before dawn and may not arrive two hours before their flights, as airlines and airport officials recommend.

RDU has enlisted staff, police officers and TSA agents to help direct passengers to the right lines in the ticketing hall and will soon install signs at various points in the security line to indicate how long travelers can expect to wait. Sandifer said even when the line gets long, it moves at a steady pace, with wait times topping out at between 30 and 40 minutes during the worst of the rush.

“You’d be surprised that once you get in the queue how quickly it flushes through the screening checkpoint,” he said.

June was another record month for passengers at RDU. According to Landguth, more than 679,000 people boarded flights during the month, 10.6 percent more than in June 2018.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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