COVID-related staffing shortages create hours-long lines for Safe Travels screening

Some passengers reported waiting hours to get through arrivals screening.
Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 7:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Airport delays during the holidays are nothing new. But some passengers say they’re facing longer lines at Hawaii’s airports this year due to COVID-related staffing shortages.

“The whole thing is frustrating — especially if you’re not coming from out of the country. Just being a regular American you should be able to come and go as you will,” said Lonnie Sorci, of Foresthill, Calif.

Many incoming passengers at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport said they’ve been forced to wait for hours to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to avoid quarantine.

That’s because the airlines have reduced or suspended their pre-screening operations at their mainland gates.

“Sometimes they have one agent screening and they can get through 25 to 50 people and the rest has to be screened here on Oahu,” said Sheri Kajiwara, special projects administrator for the state’s Safe Travel’s program.

Kajiwara said the airlines don’t get paid and don’t receive funding from the state to screen passengers for safe travels eligibility. So when there’s a staffing shortage, they have to put flight operations first.

She recommended passengers thoroughly prepare their Safe Travels forms in advance to get through the screening faster. She added that in the future the state plans to create a fast pass to speed things along.

“I think you are really in a perfect storm situation. You really have the really heavy travel during the holidays, you have staffing shortages at various airlines because so many people are out with COVID,” added Peter Forman, an aviation industry expert.

Along with screening delays, the airports were also hit by flight delays, creating even more frustration among in-bound travelers.

“We’re been here like almost an hour, waiting for our bags ... Yeah, it was pretty frustrating,” said Kenneth Manlapaz of Chula Vista, Calif.

Nationwide, the airline industry has cancelled about 3,000 flights on Monday due to staffing shortages and bad weather.

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