The United States is facing a chaotic summer of air travel as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has failed to recruit the staff numbers it was looking for to conduct security screenings. Meanwhile, security queues at airports are already at pre-pandemic levels.
In February, the TSA advertised for 6,000 security checkpoint officers, but so far has only managed to fill 2,200 positions. The agency hosted virtual recruitment fairs and even offered $500 bonuses to candidates at some airports for speeded-up paperwork.
But the Washington Post is reporting that, according to internal TSA memos seen by the newspaper, passenger numbers and staffing issues are resulting in queues of up to 45 minutes at TSA checkpoints.
The TSA currently employs around 47,000 officers, but the recruitment drive was launched in anticipation of a summer travel boon for vaccinated Americans.
The pandemic was devastating for air travel and those employed directly in aviation. More than 7,700 TSA employees contracted coronavirus, resulting in the death of 16 employees and one contractor. Nevertheless, most TSA employees spent the last year largely at home.
Although initial predictions suggested that air travel would take years to recover, but more recent passenger numbers in the US – especially in the leisure sector – indicate that the recovery may come more quickly and more robustly than originally anticipated.
The pandemic dealt air travel a devastating blow, with passenger numbers plunging last spring and airlines receiving billions of dollars in aid to keep workers on the payroll. For much of last year, many TSA officers were kept home. The TSA is currently screening around 1.5 million passengers a day, which is a huge jump from April 2020 but still below 2019 levels, when 2.5 million passengers were being routinely screened every day during the summer months.