The nation's top transportation security administrator said Thursday the bomb scare that shut down security checkpoints for two hours at the world's busiest airport was the result of a computer glitch in testing software.
Transportation Security Administration Director Kip Hawley said a screener at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport spotted what looked like an explosive Wednesday on an X-ray machine. She pressed a button that should have signaled a routine security test was being conducted, but it failed to respond, Hawley said.
The screener notified her supervisor of the suspicious image on the X-ray machine monitor at 1:15 p.m.
As a result, officials closed security checkpoints for two hours. By the time checkpoints reopened at 3:40 p.m., no planes had departed for more than an hour and all arrivals were delayed by at least 90 minutes. The shutdown came at peak travel time, and at least 120 flights were affected.
Hawley apologized for the delays that affected passengers. But he said he is pleased with the performance of the TSA screeners in Atlanta. The screener acted properly in what should have been a routine drill, he said.
He called the error a "first-time glitch" from the computer program that trains and tests security screeners and said officials are investigating how it happened.
During the delay, travelers gathered outside the airport terminal while security officers with bullhorns told the frustrated crowd their flights would be delayed.
Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta said airport officials should have informed travelers of the glitch sooner.
"We were a little late in the game in getting the word out to passengers," DeCosta said.
After the meeting, DeCosta said that during the next crisis, security officials will use the network of loudspeakers inside and outside the massive facility to inform travelers.
Hawley was at the airport Thursday for a round-table discussion with news reporters, but the session turned into a meeting about the airport shutdown.