Alaska Airlines: Sea-Tac security lines can be up to two hours long

SEATTLE, Wash. — Alaska Airlines warned its passengers Thursday that security lines at Sea-Tac Airport can reach as long as two hours.

The wait time estimate, disputed by the Transportation Safety Administration, comes as complaints rise about long screening lines during what has traditionally been a quiet season at the airport.

>> Follow this link to view current TSA security wait times.

Kade Krichko was surprised to find long lines even at midday.

"The lines are pretty crazy.  You really have to plan around it," Krichko said.

Alaska Airlines estimates peak wait times at Sea-Tac now average 45-60 minutes and even reach two hours in extreme situations.

That's why preparation is so important when customers come to the airport," said Lea Hanson, Alaska's passenger service manager at Sea-Tac.

Alaska urges customers to use the mobile app, print bag tags at home and show up two hours before domestic flights and three hours before flying internationally.

Alaska says the peak travel times are 6:30-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m.

Signing up for TSA Pre-check also saves time.

"We just are not that small regional airport anymore. We have grown so much in the last couple of years it's just been amazing," said Perry Cooper, spokesman for Sea-Tac Airport, which grew nearly 13 percent between 2014 and 2015.

While Sea-Tac's growth is exceptional, passenger numbers are generally rising nationwide, and the TSA says Congress has not budgeted enough money for staffing to keep pace.

The agency says its staffing is now at its lowest level in five years.

Screenings are also slower and more thorough after investigators last year found the agency failed to detect explosives and weapons.

A TSA spokeswoman Thursday disputed Alaska's report of waits up to two hours, but did not offer her own estimate, saying TSA no longer tracks wait times because all personnel are focused on screening.

Sea-Tac Airport is planning to help the TSA by hiring a private company to employ people to work outside the security lanes to provide basic information about what can be brought on planes, and direct people to shorter lines.

"TSA's not able to do what we call load-balancing anymore. They're trying to push a lot of their staff into the lanes themselves," Cooper said.

Sea-Tac is beginning the process of hiring a company to do that work, and hopes to get the extra people in place for the spring break rush.

Alaska Airlines issued a travel advisory on Thursday, and provides tips on its blog here.