US airports are getting busier by the day, handling more and more passengers as the appetite for travel increases in the country. Airport officials and screening officers are gearing up for further traffic surge due to the Thanksgiving holiday week. However, the holidays also coincide with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers that kicks in on November 22nd. Will this impact airport operations? Let’s find out.
Maintaining operations amid passenger surge
The Transport Security Administration (TSA) had its busiest day of the year so far on Friday when it screened more than 2 million passengers across US airports. However, with the vaccine deadline on November 22nd, there are concerns about whether the mandate will affect the agency workforce and airport operations.
TSA administrator David Pekoske is confident of smooth operations during the holiday season. CBS New York quotes him as saying,
“I don’t think they should expect chaos. We work very closely with the airlines, with the airports. We have travel projections for the coming week and we’re very confident this is going to be a very smooth operation over the next several days.”
Around 60% of TSA’s workforce had been vaccinated as of last month. While the agency has not released the latest data on its vaccinated employees, TSA maintains that the compliance rate is very high, and vaccination figures have seen a significant increase.
Pekoske added that TSA will go through a progressive discipline process with its employees who have not been vaccinated. After considering religious and medical exemptions, anyone not found vaccinated without a valid reason risks losing their job.
However, such firing might not happen immediately over the holiday period as agencies have been asked to conduct education and counseling of employees before making the final decision.
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Busy days ahead
As passengers get comfortable traveling, experts think the Thanksgiving surge will continue through the week, just like in the pre-pandemic years. Massive crowds are predicted on Tuesday and Wednesday and the Sunday and Monday after the holiday.
Families are eager to meet loved ones and make up for lost time. People feel more confident after getting vaccinated and seem eager to visit family and friends after months of restrictions and postponement. With travel restrictions also being lifted for fully vaccinated travelers from more than 30 countries, airports can expect the workload to increase in the coming days.
Many travel experts believe that US airports are likely to have jam-packed days ahead, with holiday fliers adding to all those passengers who have resumed travel steadily in recent months.
More than 50 million Americans are expected to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday – a 13% jump nationally from last year. US airports will handle a sizable chunk of this figure. Hopefully, the TSA, which has been on a hiring spree over the last few months to handle the gradual increases in post-pandemic flying, will be able to maintain normal operations.
Are you scheduled to fly during the Thanksgiving holiday week? Do you think the US airports are equipped to handle the upcoming passenger surge? Do share your thoughts.