Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach named TSA’s top airports of 2021

Monday, March 14, 2022
Renee Hearnton photo

Innovation, commitment, leadership, communication, efficiency! All play key roles in TSA’s mission and selection of the agency’s top airports in 2021.

During its annual Honorary Awards ceremony, TSA named Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) and South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) as its airports of the year – LAS for large airports and MYR for medium to smaller airports.

Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)

Gabriel Esquivel photo
Harry Reid International Airport TSA Officer Gabriel Esquivel at the LAS Innovation Checkpoint. (Photo by Kathleen Chandler)

Renee Hearnton isn’t surprised LAS was named CAT X-I Airport of the Year.

“Officers and supervisory staff process thousands of passengers efficiently and effectively without incident,” said Hearnton, a lead TSA officer at LAS. “They accomplish this by working as a team and relying on one another to get the job done. Frontline officers take pride in making sure our mission is complete.”

As part of their commitment to innovation and security, TSA LAS relaunched the Innovation Checkpoint, the only checkpoint in the country featuring the latest upgrades in aviation security technologies to improve security and the passenger screening experience. It includes four automated screening lanes with four computed tomography scanners, allowing carry-on luggage to move through the screening process uninterrupted.

“Having the only checkpoint of our kind in the nation, each of us on the Innovation Checkpoint team has developed a sense of accomplishment and pride, knowing our work here has and will continue to shape the future of TSA,” said Officer Gabriel Esquivel. “The team is honored to be a part of something that has the potential to reach across all of TSA.”

As one of the primary test airports, TSA LAS created an environment that promoted communication, trust, cooperation and respect and hosted leadership teams from across the country to review and understand their best practices.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Team LAS identified gaps and weaknesses in processes while focusing on training to improve security detection efforts.

“LAS was able to pinpoint officers’ training needs and provide some one-on-one training,” TSA Manager Kevin Greig recalled. “The training was conducted in very small groups and really reinforced the total team concept and the reason they work for TSA.”

TSA LAS also launched a series of employee town halls to improve collaboration and communication between leadership and the screening workforce.

“As identified via fiscal year 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys, employees wanted to hear from and see senior leadership,” said Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Douglas Cruz. “Our town hall meetings were goal-oriented, a time to engage, and all about joint participation. This format helped boost employee communication and engagement through unfiltered, honest and raw feedback.”

Supervisory TSA Officer Roy Fuerte, a member of the airport’s Advanced Threat Local Allocation Strategy team, said every person on Team LAS deserves this award due to their tremendous sacrifices, hard work and dedication.

“To be presented this award is very humbling, knowing how competitive it is,” Fuerte said. “Everything we do when we wear this uniform reflects on all of us at every airport. Each and every one is an ambassador for the rest of us. Every airport has the potential to achieve this award. We all have the same mission, the same equipment, the same [standard operating procedures]. The only difference is our people. So, be The Team and the best you can be … for all of us.”

Annette Mort photo
Myrtle Beach International Airport TSA Officer Annette Mort studies an X-ray image. (Photo by Blake Strickland)

Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR)

As a popular tourist destination during the warm weather season, Myrtle Beach saw a large increase in travelers in 2021 over the previous COVID-stricken year.

Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Rich Rzucidlo said passenger volume at MYR increased by 200% in July and August 2021 over the same period in 2020 and was approximately 40% higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019.

“This dramatic increase surpassed our checkpoint lane capacity by up to four lanes on certain days and hours,” Rzucidlo noted. “We attempted to overstaff lanes with additional help from national deployment officers (NDOs), employed mitigation strategies without compromising security and processed passengers as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

MYR processed a previously unheard of 12,000 passengers per day, prompting a significant increase in staffing.

“MYR relied heavily on our great TSA networks in South Carolina,” added TSA Manager Blake Strickland. “Our leadership team considered all available options. Part-time officers volunteered to work temporary full-time to further assist their fellow officers and the mission.”

Canangus Pagan photo
Myrtle Beach International Airport TSA Officer Canangus Pagan pats down a passenger at the advanced imaging technology machine. (Photo by Blake Strickland)

South Carolina Federal Security Director Dave McMahon admits that early in the summer travel season, MYR’s wait times often ran between 45 and 60 minutes, but that quickly changed.

“We were able to reduce the wait times by threat mitigation strategies, the use of our NDOs to ensure maximum staff in the checkpoint as well as up front to help guide passengers and on the back side to exit the checkpoint more efficiently,” McMahon said. “I am proud of the MYR team for their win-win positive focus.”

Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Carlos Cox saw the MYR team’s success in handling the high volumes improve each week.

“The team relied on each other, focused on security and the customer experience,” said Cox.

Strickland said the performance was nothing short of outstanding, adding, “The caliber of professionalism and teamwork displayed every day, besides the workload each officer carried, was inspiring to say the least.”

McMahon called it a great honor for TSA to recognize MYR but emphasized, “The true recognition goes to the workforce and the leadership who always come in with a positive attitude and team spirit. This recognition was shared with South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster who relayed his sincere appreciation for their professionalism and sends his congratulations.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs