TSA officers super stoked Super Bowl came to Phoenix

Monday, February 13, 2023
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport TSA Officer Shemsi Papraniku conducts a bag search. (Photo by Patricia Mancha)

Kansas City Chiefs fans are celebrating today after their team’s big win in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, and it could be the busiest day in the history of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX).

TSA officers are super stoked about the opportunity to be in the middle of the football bedlam, although football fans aren’t the only ones flooding PHX. Golf fans attending this weekend’s Phoenix Open are also flying out of PHX today.

That means lots of golf bags for TSA officers to screen in addition to the added carry-on and checked bags.

Officers Shemsi Papraniku and Erica Messina and Supervisory Officer Zachary Fate shared with us their thoughts on being part of the biggest sports weekend in the world.

Officer Shemsi Papraniku

Papraniku, a nearly seven-year TSA officer, has been at Phoenix Sky Harbor his entire TSA career and said he loves his job.

“I enjoy my job very much,” said Papraniku. “I’m lucky to be working with my coworkers.”

That teamwork is being put to the test with the huge passenger loads flying out of Phoenix today, but Papraniku said his team was prepared.

“We’ve always been prepared because of the (annual) golf tournament,” he noted. “This is the first Super Bowl I’ve ever worked. … It’s very exciting to be part of probably the biggest event in the country.”

Papraniku said officers adjusted their schedules to meet the huge travel demand, and over 100 TSA officers from other airports were deployed to Phoenix to support the PHX screening operations.

“That way, we were proactive rather than reactive,” he emphasized.

Papraniku said his team’s number one priority is security, no matter how large the crowds get.

“It takes one bag, one passenger at a time, no matter how long it takes. That’s our main priority to make sure those flights are safe.”

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) TSA Officer Erica Messina engages with a passenger at a PHX checkpoint. (Photo by Patricia Mancha)
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) TSA Officer Erica Messina engages with a passenger at a PHX checkpoint. (Photo by Patricia Mancha)

Officer Erica Messina

Messina has been at TSA for four years and is an officer at Phoenix Sky Harbor’s Checkpoint C. Just like the big game, she was ready big-time for the huge weekend crowds at PHX.

“I have been working lots and lots of overtime, preparing myself for how busy it was going to be (this weekend) and making sure that I process everyone in a calm manner and keep everyone safe, protected and very calm,” she said.

How did Messina feel about the Super Bowl coming to Phoenix?

“I think it’s amazing,” she replied. “This is my first time, so I was very excited to see how everything goes down here in Phoenix.”

Messina was especially excited to see all the canines and their handlers come through.

“I love dogs,” she said. “I love cats. Anything that’s an animal, I am excited for. I am ready for that.”

She was also prepared to screen passengers who might be a bit impatient because of the massive crowds at the airport.

“I make sure I’m always smiling, making sure I’m always the happy TSO around here,” said Messina. “I make sure I have no distractions going on around me, and I’m focused on processing and providing the highest standard of security.”

Supervisory Officer Zachary Fate discusses TSA security operations with a fellow supervisor at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Photo by Patricia Mancha)

Supervisory Officer Zachary Fate

In addition to the many national deployment officers (NDOs) from around the country to help TSA Team Phoenix process the huge passenger loads, overtime was the name of the game this weekend.

“We had overtime in the mornings and nights – early mornings, late nights,” said Fate. “And we really appreciate all the help the NDOs are giving us.”

Planning for the Super Bowl and the Phoenix Open didn’t happen overnight.

“Our management team put together a Super Bowl plan,” Fate said. “We’re directing officers, running certain programs basically the whole shift throughout the day. We’re directing the teams to have TSA PreCheck® at certain locations, not at others. And we’re really focusing on making sure standard operating procedures are followed. It really leads to a nice, smooth, easy day.”

Even though Fate has been through this before, he calls this weekend a “big deal” for his airport and community, and he’s proud of that.

“I was here for the last Super Bowl, and it brings a lot of attention to the city of Phoenix,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase our city.”

Fate’s schedule today to supervise his checkpoint is 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. (MST), and he expected heavy crowds well into the day, not only in the morning.

As a supervisor, he feels a big responsibility to lead by example.

“Being out there with the officers, engaging with the public, responding to any calls they might have,” Fate explained. “Whatever I can do to help the officers and support them in getting the job done.”

One passenger, one bag – that’s the key to the success of PHX’s detection efforts, according to Fate, and that is especially emphasized on big screening days like this.

“We don’t want to think about what’s coming next,” he said. “We need to be in the moment, screening the bag, giving it our full attention, making sure we’re doing the job we’re here to do.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs