Officials: Arrive early, stay patient as demand for air travel increases

Northwest Florida

PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Melissa Gillespie was in Destin this past week for her sister’s bachelorette weekend. 

On Sunday, while trying to return to Chicago, things didn’t go according to plan at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. 

“A group ahead of us that were flying earlier than us warned that the situation was pretty chaotic,” she said.

Gillespie arrived three hours early and still missed her flight as lines for baggage checks stretched outside of the airport, highlighting a problem seen across the country as airports manage TSA shortages and increased demand for air travel. 

“It’s making the situation difficult,” said Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport Director Tracy Stage. “We are short-staffed, airlines are short-staffed, TSA is short-staffed, but everyone is doing the best they can to be accommodating.” 

The TSA says it is “well-positioned to meet rising traveler volume and is on pace with established benchmarks to meet hiring goals,” according to CBS News.

“The TSA is offering a recruitment pitch which includes a $1,000 incentive for new hires,” CBS News reported. “Just a few months ago the TSA planned to hire more than 6,000 security officers by this summer. So far, it’s hired half of that number.”

Stage told WKRG News 5 15,000 people came through the airport each day this weekend. That number is only expected to rise as more people begin to travel. 

“Now that vaccinations and vaccines are more widely available and there’s less travel restrictions, specifically in the state of Florida, more and more people with pent up demand are wanting to travel,” Stage said. 

The Pensacola International Airport (PNS) is seeing similar growth since the end of the COVID-19 shutdowns. 

“We’re seeing tremendous growth. Week over week, anywhere from 12% to 22% growth,” said Lewis Garvin, marketing director with PNS, adding the growth was unexpected. “We’ve had several days where we had about 5,000 (people) going through TSA, which means we had about the same amount coming in.”

Airport officials are encouraging travelers to be patient as they can be as airports try to manage the influx of air travelers as summer continues. 

“We’re asking everyone to arrive at least two hours — if not before — your flight is scheduled to depart,” Garvin said. “That way you have time for check in, you have time to go through the TSA because things happen.”

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