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First day of security line changes at MSP Airport causes confusion

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A sign on display at MSP airport highlights changes for security.
A major remodeling project at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport has reconfigured the security checkpoints, leading to some confusion and long waits the first day the changes went into effect Monday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Updated: 3:40 p.m. | Published: 8:03 a.m.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport officially apologized Monday afternoon for long waits and disruptions after a change to security screening made for big backups for morning travelers.

“There were some people that experienced delays that inconvenienced some folks,” said airport spokesman John Welbes. He said airport staff were already looking at some changes to better accommodate travelers going forward.

The issue: A flooring replacement project got underway Monday as part of a larger expansion and upgrade for the ticketing lobby at Terminal 1, also known as the Lindbergh Terminal. That’s forced airport officials to restrict use of the south checkpoint, which now has less space than before.

That means the south checkpoint is for TSA Precheck passengers only. Regular security screening, Clear security customers, and Delta’s Sky Priority flyers go through the North security checkpoint on the opposite end of the ticketing lobby.

Signs at the doors and airport staff waving flashlights to direct traffic weren’t enough to sort through the changes, as travelers lined up in the wrong lines, didn’t find the right entry to the checkpoints and clogged what room there was among the ticket counter stanchions and security queues.

The delays prompted scorn and desperation as travelers tried to thread their way through the crowds that built until about 6:30 a.m. — although lines continued to back up even after the usual morning rush eased.

Anne Hill of Minneapolis said she had been in line for 45 minutes and still hadn’t made it to the first TSA check of her boarding pass as she stood in the Delta Sky Priority lane at the north checkpoint.

“I got here at 5:45 for a 7:25 flight. Should have been plenty of time,” she said. “Sky Priority, I have all the bells and whistles, and still just waiting. Very surprised. I travel all the time, and I’ve never seen it like this.”

Cliff Van Leuven, TSA’s federal security director for Minnesota, said a busy morning together with confusion over use of the checkpoints led more crowding than he is comfortable with.

"I hate lines. I hate bedlam,” he said, “and I hate the potential threat that a departure hall full of people may present."

Welbes said that the checkpoints were working at their usual capacity, with the usual number of lanes.

“Some things we’re going to look at doing to smooth things out tomorrow, is potentially opening some lanes earlier, before the crowds really start to mount, before 6 a.m.” Welbes said. Other changes may include adding even more staff to guide people to the proper screening lines and rearranging the lines for better flow.

“It’s small changes, but they can make things move a little bit more efficiently,” he said.

Welbes added that travelers will probably become used to the changes and that word will get out more widely that navigating security will require some additional attention. He said most travelers will still wait half an hour or less.

The remodeling project at the south checkpoint is expected to last through mid-December. Passengers traveling during the busy Minnesota Educator Academy weekend in October and for the Thanksgiving holiday will also have to navigate the new security checkpoint configurations. Airport officials say travelers should arrive at the airport at least two hours before their flight.