TSA screenings first surpass 2019 ranges within the pandemic

Travelers wait in line at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at Orlando International Airport in May 2021.

Paul Hennessy | SOPA pictures | LightRakete | Getty Images

The Transportation Security Administration said Friday that airport controls rose above 2019 levels for the first time in the pandemic, suggesting strong travel demand over the weekend of July 4th.

The TSA screened nearly 2.15 million people on Thursday, nearly 3% more than the 2.01 million people who went through security checkpoints at U.S. airports on July 1, 2019.

It is unlikely that the trend will last. July 1, 2019 was a Monday and a low point for the week when the screenings surged by more than 706,000 people and peaked on July 5.

Still, the milestone shows the surge in air travel demand since a widespread US vaccine rollout this spring and a relaxation of pandemic-related closures or restrictions. The increase is mainly due to domestic vacation travel in the United States, with most long-haul business and international travel still on hold.

Airlines are grappling with a variety of thunderstorms in the U.S. this week, causing delays in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, which is home to the hubs of Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.

Southwest canceled 194 flights, or 5% of its schedule, on Friday, according to flight tracking site FlightAware. More than 1,100 flights – or 32% of the daily schedule – were delayed, the website said. About 160 major American scheduled flights – or 5% of the schedule – were canceled and nearly 1,000 were delayed.

Storms around New York City and Denver also delayed more than 1,000 flights on Friday.

Airlines and airports also try to have enough staff for the high summer season.

Transportation companies were prohibited from involuntarily taking workers off leave in exchange for $ 54 billion in federal pay slips. However, the airlines turned to voluntary action, urging employees to take buy-outs, early retirements or temporary leave during the pandemic. Some are trying to hire or recall them, as well as hire temporary or new full-time workers to meet rising demand.

Earlier this week, CNBC reported that Southwest is offering double pay for flight attendants and ground and cargo operations agents to take shifts during the first week of July to avoid flight disruptions. American announced last month that it had cut its schedule for the first half of July by about 1%, in part due to the surge in demand and staff shortages.

JetBlue Airways said it will give flight attendants who don’t call between July 1 and September 6, $ 800 or four confirmed one-way passes on future flights.

“This summer is not going to be easy financially or operationally, and operations are making this time even more difficult,” said Ed Baklor, JetBlue’s vice president of in-flight experience, in a memo verified by CNBC.

Delta Air Lines is in the process of hiring 1,300 reservation agents by the fall after customers have faced hours of waiting. The airline is also planning to hire pilots, flight attendants and mechanics.

United Airlines – which, like Delta this summer, was more conservative in taking flights compared to American and Southwest – credited the federal aid and a deal with their pilots union that kept many Airmen informed and available to address some of its competitors’ operational challenges .

Airports also face a variety of staffing challenges, with some concession operators offering a $ 1,000 signing bonus to fill vacancies for cashiers, chefs, and other jobs.

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