AUSTIN (KXAN) — Lengthy wait times, higher flight prices and increased traffic — these are some of the issues passengers are facing as airports see travel return to pre-pandemic levels.
At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) lines were about two hours long during the airport’s peak morning rush Friday.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said 5,000 passengers is considered a large number of travelers for early morning surges before the pandemic. But Friday morning’s preliminary numbers showed 7,500 travelers at the surge.
“I was really shocked. We fly a couple of times, and airports have been pretty much… not empty, but they haven’t been this busy,” said Janet Cena, as she was in line to catch her flight.
Many said it’s a sign travel is returning. The El Paso Locomotive FC flew Friday for the first time this season.
“It’s good to get back on the road,” said Diego Luna of El Paso Locomotive FC.
They joined about 20,000 others going through Austin security checkpoints Friday. The airport warns you should arrive even earlier, as Austin adds more destinations, which means more travelers.
“Even starting tomorrow, we have several new flights to Aspen, Nassau, The Bahamas,” said Bryce Dubee, an airport spokesman.
KXAN checked in with TSA to see if staffing issues are causing delays. A spokesperson said while AUS is looking to hire transportation security officers, it’s not on the priority list compared to other airports in the nation.
“TSA did not furlough any positions. Instead during the peak of the pandemic, transportation security officers (TSO) were allowed liberal leave time to deal with issues related to the pandemic. At the moment we are on track to hire 3,000 TSO positions nationwide and some areas require more positions than others. Alaska, Washington state, Boston and Denver are a few of the airports with the greatest need. Austin-Bergstom Airport is looking to hire TSO positions, for security reasons I can’t give you an exact number but can tell you that it is not on the priority list nationwide.”
This comes as flight prices have almost doubled for travelers since 2020. Experts like Professor Edward Anderson of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin said it’s partly due to the number of planes in service being about 15% lower than last year.
“Last year the airlines retired a number of their planes, because there were only 391,000 passengers per month. They got rid of some [planes], but now they’ve upped their orders,” Anderson explained. “2021 is going to remain expensive because of the lack of planes and increased demand. It will probably get a little bit better after the summer rush.”
Anderson said sometime in 2022 we should see a relief in plane availability, and prices should start returning to normal.