College football’s game of the year came to Indiana, and TSA was right in the middle of the celebration.
Indianapolis International Airport (IND) was abuzz as football fans flocked to the Hoosier state’s capital city to watch Georgia outlast Alabama, 33-18, to win the national championship.
TSA Team IND showed its spirit by wearing special college football national championship surgical masks the day after the game when tens of thousands of Bulldog and Crimson Tide fans flew back home. The Indianapolis Airport Authority provided the masks to TSA, airport and airline stakeholders and vendors.
“Wearing the masks makes us feel like we’re a part of the experience, and everyone was proud to wear them,” said TSA Manager Stacy Smith. “We’re very fortunate to live in a city that hosts the national championship, Super Bowls, March Madness, and the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – the Indy 500.”
Just last year, Indiana hosted the entire NCAA Basketball Tournament with the Final Four in Indianapolis, and TSA officers were given special March Madness masks to wear for that event.
“The March Madness masks were a hit with our workforce,” said Kevin Bidwell, TSA Indiana assistant federal security director for screening. “[Our team] has shown tremendous resilience through this pandemic, and this small gesture put a smile on their faces.”
TSA Officers Jada Gilliam and Tanner Piland were excited to be part of the big celebration.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Gilliam. “There was a lot of team spirit with the Georgia and Alabama fans. Everyone was in high spirits and in a good mood! Very cooperative.”
“[Wearing the special football masks] helped us connect with the passengers on a different level compared to the standard blue surgical masks we typically wear,” Piland noted. “I think it made it easier for the passengers, making us more approachable if they had questions.”
Through all the excitement and large football crowds, TSA IND had a big job to do. Tuesdays are normally the slowest day of the week at the airport, but the Tuesday after the championship game was anything but quiet.
“We planned on a 30% increase [in traveler volume] but actually screened about 40% more passengers compared to a normal Tuesday in January,” Smith said. “Our scheduling team did an amazing job making sure we were prepared to handle the additional traffic.”
Bidwell said his team made the decision to stay open 24 hours on game day, fully staffing operations to peak capacity with canines available to screen passengers and property when needed. Fortunately, TSA IND had no shortage of volunteers for overtime to execute the plan. Bidwell believes TSA’s partnerships played a big role in making airport operations a huge success.
“The TSA IND partnership with airport stakeholders, local law enforcement and the surrounding community is one of the strongest you will find in the country,” said Bidwell. “These small gestures serve as a reminder that not only are they valued as partners in these large events, but they have a major impact on the overall success of the event.”
“Everything ran smoothly,” added Smith. “It was like a sea of RED in our queues. Passengers were smart, arriving at the airport with plenty of time to check in and navigate security. Our Airport Authority was out in front helping passengers navigate checkpoints.”
It was an event TSA officers like Piland and Gilliam won’t soon forget.
“I think it gave us the opportunity to show off our teamwork to the traveling public and show how tight-knit a group we are,” Piland said.
“Anytime we have these large events in Indianapolis, passengers always state how much they love Indianapolis, and that [IND] is one of the best airports they’ve ever traveled through,” Gilliam emphasized. “They make comments about how nice and helpful the TSA officers are here, so it feels good knowing and receiving that kind of feedback from passengers.”
In closing, Bidwell declared, “Congratulations to the Georgia Bulldawgs!”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs