TSA plagued by staff shortages as more airports see uptick in travel

As more Americans fly again, we’re seeing long lines at security checkpoints and the TSA may not have enough staff to keep up. 

According to a TSA memo obtained by the Washington Post, 235 airports are currently under-staffed, including some of the nation’s busiest, like Boston Logan, Denver International and Washington Dulles. Some airports are short as many as 100 TSA officers.

In some cases, passengers have been asked to arrive three hours early to ensure they make their flights.

“It’s a long process in getting an employee ready to screen passengers, for their safety,” said Hydrick Thomas, president of the TSA officer’s union.

Thomas says he is skeptical the agency will hit its hiring target.

“Right now there isn’t too many people applying for the job, maybe because of the pay. They look at other federal agencies and compare the pay,” he said.

The TSA says it is “well positioned to meet rising traveler volume and is on pace with established benchmarks to meet hiring goals.”  The TSA is offering a recruitment pitch which includes a $1,000 incentive for new hires. Just a few months ago the TSA planned to hire more than six thousand security officers by this summer. So far, it’s hired half of that number.

Over the weekend, passenger screenings at TSA checkpoints were at about 77% of their pre-pandemic levels. Nearly six million Americans traveled over the weekend. That’s a huge jump from only 1.5 million over the same weekend last year and it’s only expected to push higher.

“The recovery in the leisure travel demand is taking almost anyone in the airline industry by surprise,”  travel Industry analyst Henry Hartevelt said.

Harteveldt said while more TSA staff are certainly needed, airlines’ schedules are also part of the problem.

“You can only travel when the airlines have flights going. And if they have flights leaving at 7:00 in the morning and 7:00 p.m., then that’s when you go. And guess what? If all the other flights are leaving at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., then there’s going to be a bottleneck,” he said.  “Everybody just needs to pack a little patience as they go to the airport this summer.”

The TSA is reportedly calling for volunteers from its office staff to work here at major hubs for about a month and a half, but they won’t be able to screen passengers—only help with onboarding or direct foot traffic. Agents at short-staffed airports are being offered 500 dollars for working overtime and on their days off but experts say that’s nowhere near enough.

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