The Memorial Day weekend is upon us – the unofficial start of the summer travel season. Just in time, our nation’s airports are seeing a big resurgence in travelers.
During the month of May, TSA officers have screened over 1.5 million air passengers a day, on average, compared to under 200,000 daily passengers in May 2020, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Passenger confidence seems to be bouncing back. This summer, TSA expects to exceed 2 million passengers a day for the first time since pre-pandemic numbers with many travelers flying for the first time in more than a year.
TSA, though, is prepared!
“The continued trend of rising passenger screening volume indicates a high confidence in and increased access to COVID-19 vaccines,” said Darby LaJoye, senior official performing the duties of the TSA Administrator. “As more and more people return to travel, TSA stands ready to provide a smooth and efficient screening process as part of their overall travel experience.”
Federal Security Directors Keith Jeffries of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Steve Lorincz of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) are both seeing that confidence first-hand.
“We have seen a definite increase in passenger loads at LAX and our spoke airports,” said Jeffries. “This is attributed to the confidence the traveling public has in the steps the airport, airlines and our country have taken to protect passengers.”
Lorincz is again seeing more leisure travelers and more families coming through Detroit’s checkpoints and said his staff has readied itself for the summer growth.
“Our mission support team has been working to hire to our authorized [staffing] allocation,” noted Lorincz. “We were fortunate to receive additional [staffing] for the summer. It’s amazing to see how our team has recruited, assessed, interviewed and onboarded folks as quickly as they appear in the employee ready pool.”
Jeffries said LAX and its spoke airports are fully staffed for the summer rush but will continue to fill positions as they become available.
As part of its summer preparedness, TSA has also taken steps to convert part-time employees to full-time, increasing the hours per week for part-time officers and increasing the use of overtime as needed.
TSA prepared for the travel resurgence in another big way – adding new touchless technology to the screening process during the pandemic.
“It’s a game-changer,” Lorincz exclaimed. “DTW piloted Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) with positive feedback from employees and customers. Computed Tomography has also been well-received. We’re always looking at ways to build on our detection capabilities while reducing the divestment requirements to support the customer experience.”
In addition to the new high-tech CAT equipment that allows passengers to scan their own IDs, Jeffries said travelers flying out of LAX will also notice queuing stanchions arranged to allow for more distancing between passengers and acrylic barriers between themselves and TSA officers to better protect everyone, even though a growing number of travelers are vaccinated.
While TSA is actively working to minimize impact to screening operations, travelers may experience longer wait times than they have over the past year due to the increase in passenger volume. The agency continues to promote TSAPreCheck® for easier screening with shorter waits and fewer touchpoints.
“We are partnering with the airport and airlines to get out the message ‘what to expect when you fly,’” said Lorincz. “We’re also working with our TSA Public Affairs representative to set up interviews to educate the flying public about the changes they should expect when they arrive at the airport.”
Like Lorincz, Jeffries wants the public to know “it’s always a good idea for passengers to check TSA.gov, the airline and airport for the most up-to-date information on what they can expect during their travel.”
The job for TSA’s screening officers is getting busier, but Jeffries emphasized, “The officers are very excited to see passenger loads increasing. Seeing all the passengers back at the airport brings back a sense of normalcy for everyone.”