After passengers waited well over an hour to get through security at Atlanta's airport as it struggled to recover from ice and snow, federal officials tried to avoid a repeat of lines that snaked through the airport's atrium and past its food court.
Unlike the chaotic scene Wednesday, when only the main checkpoint was operational, the airport had all three checkpoints in the domestic terminal open Thursday.
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Steve Meske of Jasper, Georgia, arrived at the airport around 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, thinking he had ample time to make his 3 p.m. flight to Indiana. Boy was he wrong.
"I went on an adventure to find the security line — and the end of it," Meske recalled Thursday. "Everywhere I walked to find the end of the line there were travelers everywhere and they all said 'keep going, keep going, keep going,'" he said. "The line went around some restaurants, back out the other side of the restaurants and snaked through the luggage area. I got to the end of the line, finally."
Once in line, he started timing. It took him one hour and 30 minutes to get to the agent who checked his boarding documents at the point just before passengers strip off their belts, shoes and jackets and load their gear into the scanning machines, he said.
Things were better Thursday. It was taking passengers 15 to 30 minutes to get through the main checkpoint Thursday afternoon, the airport's website showed. That was an improvement over Wednesday, when it took passengers more than two hours to get through security, the airport reported to Delta Air Lines, the Atlanta-based company said in a statement.
The Transportation Security Administration had a different account. The longest recorded wait time on Wednesday was 75 minutes, TSA spokesman Mark Howell said in a statement.
The problem Wednesday was that TSA employees couldn't get to the airport, officials said.
"Due to dangerous road conditions, traffic and public transportation delays and school closures, a number of employees were unable to come to work or arrived when they were able to do so safely, as was the case for most Atlanta residents," TSA spokesman Mark Howell said in a statement.
Passengers weren't buying it. Several took to Twitter to note that they had all managed to get to the airport for their flights, only to face lengthy security delays.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was already dealing with weather-related delays Wednesday when passengers experienced the lengthy delays to board flights departing to U.S. cities. International flights from Atlanta operate from a separate terminal, where getting through security is typically much quicker.
Howell said several employees stayed at the airport overnight Wednesday and that canines would be used to expedite the screening process.
"Every time this happens in Atlanta, they say 'we're going to do better next time. And they don't," Meske said.
"People all over the United States have this and life goes on," he said of the snow. "It happens in Atlanta and the city shuts down. Shame on them for not having contingency plans. The minute the white stuff starts flying, everyone loses their minds."
After hundreds of flights were canceled at airports nationwide Wednesday, flight operations in Atlanta were returning to normal, Delta said Thursday. No cancellations of Delta flights were anticipated for Friday, the airline said in a statement. Delta operates the vast majority of flights at Atlanta's airport, which is its main hub.
Atlanta's airport is the world's busiest, with an average of 275,000 passengers using it every day and more than 100 million travelers annually.