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Canines, PreCheck move will cut historically long Kahului Airport lines in half, officials say

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Kahului Airport canines. The Hawai’i Department of Transportation and Transportation Security Administration highlight infrastructure and security additions at Kahului Airport on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. Photo courtesy: Gaylord Paul Garcia for Maui Now.

To curb historically long security lines at Kahului Airport, new measures – including Maui-based passenger-screening canines and reconfigured TSA PreCheck lines – will help cut wait times in half, state and federal officials announced Thursday morning.  

This summer, Maui’s main airport has been riddled with hours-long Transportation Security Administration lines that have snaked into the unshaded, hot sun.  

State Maui District Airports Fire Chief Colby Hanley told Maui Now that four heat-related health incidents have been reported at Kahului Airport in recent months. Water stations, along with temporary and permanent outdoor tents, have been installed, Hanley added. 

However, the goal is that outdoor tents won’t have to be used moving forward, thanks to the new Maui-based passenger-screening canines, along with two TSA PreCheck lines near the airport’s baggage claim side, which frees the existing seven lanes for standard passengers, acting Federal Security Director for Hawai’i Scot Thaxton said during the Thursday news conference. At peak travel times, all nine lanes will be open.  

“Even though we put up the great tents, and thank you for doing that, our goal is not to have . . . passengers waiting underneath the tents,” Thaxon said.  “We are going to see if there is fluctuations in the airline schedule, we are responsible to meet that, we will see how that evolves, but we are very confident right now that it’s going to reduce it in half.”  

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Since July 1, TSA has screened about 1% more Kahului Airport travelers when compared to 2019, according to officials.  

The longest wait times are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. daily except Tuesday and Wednesday, a news release said. Large passenger volumes in short durations can be attributed to high airline carrier demand for those timeframes, transportation officials have said. Flights were more staggered before the pandemic. 

TSA passenger-screening canines help alleviate passenger wait times by sniffing out explosives or explosive materials. If the scents are not detected on passengers, those travelers get modified screening so the process moves faster, according to TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers. 

Lorie Dankers, TSA spokesperson for Hawai’i. Photo courtesy: Gaylord Paul Garcia for Maui Now.

Although deployed across the country at various transit hubs, TSA passenger-screening canines are only being used in Hawai’i at Honolulu International Airport and at Kahului Airport due to high passenger volumes, Dankers said.  

The canines are solely trained to detect the scent of explosives or explosive materials and do not detect drugs or other contraband items, she said. 

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While the dogs are sociable, they are working dogs and should not be petted or fed by anyone but their handlers, officials said. 

TSA utilizes German Shepherds, Belgium Milionis, Labrador Retrievers, Pointers and Viszlas in its canine program due to their environmental stability, hunt and fetch drive for primary reward, search ability, odor localization and availability. Four dogs — Rozsdi, Joa, Alfa and Molly — comprise Maui’s canine team.  

“Because explosives are known to be the greatest threat to the aviation system, these highly-trained canines are an effective tool to deter and detect explosives or explosive materials,” a news release said. 

Officials also said new security technology has been added to Kahului Airport to aid the screening process.  

Two computed tomography scanners screen carry-on luggage by generating a 3D image of contents. When using the scanner, travelers can leave everything in bags, including electronics larger than a cell phone and food.  

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Also, four Credential Authentication Technology units are employed at Kahului Airport. They are programmed to confirm the validity of a traveler’s photo ID and flight information in real-time. It’s also designed to identify fraudulent documents or ones that have been tampered with.  

When it comes to infrastructure improvements, state DOT and airline partners last month installed a 200-foot-long tent fronting the security checkpoint. A temporary 120-foot-long tent was provided by the county Office of the Mayor.  

In the future, Kahului Airport will receive a new security screening checkpoint at the south end of the ticket lobby. The state is in the design phase for the project, according to Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz.

Marvin A. Moniz, Kahului Airport District Manager. Photo courtesy: Gaylord Paul Garcia for Maui Now.

Despite the busy summer travel season coming to a close, airports across the country remain busy due to pent-up travel demand and suppressed international travel, officials said.  

TSA released the following tips on the security screening process from any airport: 

• While standing in a checkpoint line, use time wisely. Remove items from pockets such as wallets, keys, lip balm, tissues and cell phones and place them into carry-on bags instead of putting items from pockets directly into bins. It’s also the best time to have your photo ID in hand prior to walking up to the travel document checking podium.  

• Enroll in TSA PreCheck. The expedited screening program allows travelers to leave on shoes, jackets, belts and enables people to keep electronics and 3-1-1 bags in carry-on luggage in any screening lane at any airport. TSA PreCheck lines move the quickest. An enrollment center is located at 210 Imi Kala St., Suite 35, Wailuku. In response to a Maui Now question about whether PreCheck is also backlogged, Dankers said walk-in appointments are being accepted and people may try to get an appointment on another island.  

• Know what can and cannot go in a carry-on bag, from firearms to oversize liquids. Prohibited items result in bag checks and checkpoint delays.  

• Get answers to traveling with medications or special circumstances answered. Travelers or families of passengers with disabilities and/or medical conditions may call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at (855) 787-2227 at least 72 hours prior to flying with any questions, to find out what to expect at the security checkpoint as well as to arrange for assistance.  

The Hawai’i Department of Transportation and Transportation Security Administration highlight infrastructure and security additions at Kahului Airport on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022.
Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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