When it comes to slowed security lines, much of this can be credited to staffing shortages within the Transportation Security Administration.
However, help has come in the form of furry four-legged friends.
David Heinzig works for TSA as a canine handler at Austin’s Airport.
“When I showed up and we were short-staffed, the lines were out the door pretty much every day,” he said. Now, we’ve got them pretty well handled.”
His dog, Vinny, allows for a faster flow of traffic while strengthening security.
Each day, the three-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer is tasked with sniffing out explosives in luggage or on passengers within the Barbara Jordan Terminal.
“He can search people, as well as stationary objects,” Heinzig said. “He can detect minute traces of whatever explosives might be out there.”
Before getting the green light to work at airports across the country, up to 300 of these teams are trained every year at the TSA Canine Training Center in San Antonio.
Zeb Polasek is the director of the program, located in the Lackland Air Force Base.
“Anytime you have a well-trained canine, it’s a force multiplier,” he said. “Canines are unmatched.”
In order to ensure that the dogs understand the environments they’ll work in, each warehouse within the facility is designed to look like an airport.
They’re then matched with a human companion.
“They are paired with a partially trained dog,” Polasek explained. “They then go through a rigorous course that’s anywhere between 11-16 weeks long.”
By the end of training, they’re a true team, ready to screen thousands of passengers during a single shift.
“These dogs go home with their handlers,” Polasek said. “They can deploy from their home back to the airport relatively quickly, if a threat were to happen.”
TSA spokeswoman Patricia Mancha says that when the canines are working, it’s as if everyone has TSA PreCheck.
While walking through security gates, passengers can keep their shoes on and don’t have to remove liquids or electronics from their bags.
“That speeds up the process so much,” she said. “When you have the volume that we have here at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, it makes all the difference.”
TSA is also asking that people avoid petting or feeding the dogs if you spot them at the airport. This could distract the dogs or damage their diet, which ensures they’re fully fit for a day on the job.
To learn more about the TSA Canine Training Center in San Antonio, you can visit its website.