Congressman Lloyd Doggett says the TSA at Austin’s airport is “thoroughly unprepared” for an expected surge in summer travelers.
AUSTIN, Texas — Officials at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) are urging fliers to arrive 2.5 hours before boarding domestic flights, ahead of what could be the busiest summer ever for air travel in the Capital City.
Previously, airport officials only asked domestic travelers to arrive two hours before boarding.
Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend travel period, the airport is anticipating a daily record could be broken. The current record is 35,298, set on Oct. 25, 2021.
AUS continues to see high-volume travel days, which are days with 26,000 to 30,000 passengers. In seeing the continued growth of passenger numbers, AUS expects to see a record-breaking 20 million passengers in 2022.
The large crowds are contributing to long lines that sometimes spill outside of the terminal and onto the curb.
In response to the long lines that are resulting in some missing their flights at Austin’s airport, Congressman Lloyd Doggett on Wednesday again urged the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator to increase staffing and have contingency plans for when screening officers call out, before the expected summer travel surge. But according to airport officials, data trends show the summer travel uptick may already be hitting.
“The situation in the Austin airport – both with new, incredibly long arrival recommendations, and with the continual delays of passenger screening until lines run out of the airport – is untenable and unacceptable,” Doggett said. “I plan to continue my ongoing work in urging the TSA to resolve it and staff our growing airport for our growing city appropriately.”
The letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske was a second renewed request from Doggett to bring help to the airport TSA lines. He noted that he’s worried about people dealing with heat stroke while waiting on the airport curb in overflowing lines.
“There are specific things that can be done now to alleviate the surge that we will see throughout the summer months so that we don’t have people suffering from heat stroke because they’ve been standing outside the airport so long just trying to get into their flight,” Doggett said in an interview with KVUE. “I know how frustrating and upsetting it can be when people miss a flight simply because there were not enough people there to get them through security. And I want to put a stop to that and see that everybody can move through that airport as expeditiously as possible.”
The TSA released the following statement as a response:
“Staffing is a challenge, much like it is across the country. It is harder to staff than 2019. We are below where we want to be, but we are deploying National Deployment Officers to AUS airport who will be assigned for the duration of the summer, we will deploy additional canine teams who will also be deployed for the duration of summer travel season, we have implemented retention incentives, moving some part-time officers to full-time, chipping away at overtime, and the president’s budget includes improved compensation for our workforce – which, if passed, will have a great impact on the workforce. While we are preparing for 2019 volumes, volumes are projected to be below that (due to international).
“We are continuing our efforts to recruit and retain a workforce that is able to meet increasing demands of passenger travel volume and maintain security effectiveness. We monitor wait times at every airport and work with our airport and airline partners to anticipate higher traffic patterns.
“Throughout the summer, TSA is deploying its advance checkpoint technology. This technology provides more advanced threat detection capability and is better in terms of security effectiveness, but while being installed, it could cause passengers to wait a bit longer in queue to be screened. Please account for this in your departure time, and again, give yourself plenty of time.
“We design our system to meet performance requirements with throughput. We have standards for wait times – 30 minutes for standard, 10 minutes for PreCheck, and in general, we meet that. Our priority is to make sure screening is conducted in a way that is best for safety and security. We are staffed up and ready to go and we’ve done everything we can there, and we will also adjust to spikes in volume through the use of our National Deployment Force as needed. As far as the NDO, we do not send them reactively – we look at the data ahead of time to see if/when we need to deploy.”
On Tuesday, May 17, TSA said its officers screened more than 2 million people. That marks the first time in 2022 that the TSA screened more than two million people on a Tuesday, according to the TSA.
The last time a Tuesday saw that many people hit the skies was Thanksgiving 2021.
Officials shared travel tips to help passengers work their way through the airport.
The airport recommended that travelers using general TSA screening should arrive at least 2.5 hours before their boarding time for domestic flights. Travelers flying internationally should check in at their airline ticket counter at least three hours before boarding.
Travelers checking luggage, traveling with small children or in a large group, and those flying out of the airport for the first time should give themselves extra time in addition to the 2.5 and 3-hour recommendations to make it to their gate on time.
Parking and passenger drop-off
The airport encourages drivers and passengers to “switch,” using whichever level has the least congestion for drop-off for departures. The airport said passengers can quickly get upstairs to ticketing and security using escalators and elevators from the lower arrivals level. If the lower level is congested, arriving passengers can use escalators and elevators to be picked up on the upper level.
Travelers looking to park onsite can visit the airport parking website to reserve a parking space and check for real-time parking availability before arriving at the airport.
For arriving passengers getting picked up by rideshares, a tram service is available on the first floor of the Red garage to take passengers from the terminal to the rideshare pick-up area on the ground floor underneath the rental car facility.
Travelers without checked luggage can skip the airline ticket counters and head to security screening checkpoints using these options:
- Using the lower curbside and upper curbside for drop-off. From the lower level, passengers can quickly get upstairs to ticketing and security via escalators and elevators.
- Self-service flight check-in kiosks that allow travelers to print their boarding passes and bag tags are available inside the terminal, across from the airline ticket counters.
- In addition to traditional check-in procedures, select airlines offer outside curbside check-in
- Checking in for flights using airlines’ mobile app and a mobile boarding pass
TSA screening and packing
Staffing at security screening checkpoints is the responsibility of the TSA, the airport said. Checkpoints open at 3:30 a.m. with TSA PreCheck and Clear screening available at Checkpoints 1 and 2 West.
A new security checkpoint near Southwest ticketing, Checkpoint 2 East, will be open during peak travel periods for all passengers going through general screening. All checkpoints lead to all gates and airlines in the Barbara Jordan Terminal.
See what can and cannot be brought through TSA security here.
Health and safety
The TSA no longer requires people to wear masks at airports, including AUS, as of April 18, 2022.
Allegiant and Frontier travelers
Travelers flying with Allegiant and Frontier will depart from the South Terminal. All other airlines operate out of the main Barbara Jordan Terminal.
The two terminals are not connected and must be accessed separately. The South Terminal is located at 10000 Logistics Lane, near US 183 and Burleson Road. If dropped off at the Barbara Jordan Terminal, passengers can use a shuttle bus, which picks up from the curb-side departure level, to get to the South Terminal.
To see AUS frequently asked questions, visit the airport website here.