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Transportation

Security lines at Austin's airport have been crazy long. TSA is sending in the cavalry.

ABIA_GCP_072721.jpg
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport's main terminal on July 27, 2021.

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Austin, which has quickly gone from an aspiring international city to a bonafide destination for international travelers, has an airport problem.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has struggled to keep pace with its pandemic-era bounce-back, leading to security lines stretching out of terminals, flight cancellations and even a blockade of abandoned rental cars late last month.

Now, the Transportation Security Administration is sending in 15 additional officers, along with more canine units, to speed up queues. Thirty-five extra agents already had been sent to Austin to help out.

The deployment comes after pleas to TSA from U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) and ABIA's Chief Executive Jacqueline Yaft.

Doggett couldn't provide details as to when the additional staff would be onsite, saying only that he was coordinating with TSA Administrator David Pekoske and airport officials.

"There clearly is a lot more that needs to be done, if we are going to maintain this as an international city," he said. "We have got to have a more welcoming presence at our airport ... and ease the considerable discomfort and missed flights that so many people have been having."

Recent issues at the airport have led to security lines that snaked out of terminals. That led to a back-and-forth between city and federal regulators over who was to blame. Doggett said he's heard anecdotally about staffing woes, but he hopes there will be "less finger-pointing" and more of a focus on solutions.

"I've heard ... [about] vacancies and who's responsible for this or that," he said. "My goal is to get enough of those facts to assure that this problem is solved."

While staffing is partly to blame for the delays, the airport is also in a unique position: It's undergoing a yearslong expansion that's been delayed by a pandemic and legal squabbles. Meanwhile, it's seeing its capacity rise at a breakneck pace. ABIA is the fastest growing airport in the country, and officials expect a 41% year-over-year increase in capacity, according to ABIA's latest analysis. The airport expects a record-high 20 million travelers to pass through this year.

In a statement to KUT, ABIA welcomed the increase in staffing.

"The Department of Aviation is grateful for the continued collaboration and support from our TSA partners as we work together on the shared goal of improving the AUS passenger experience," a spokesperson said.

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Corrected: April 8, 2022 at 5:37 PM CDT
A previous version of this story said the TSA was sending an additional 50 agents. It is sending 15 more — for a total of 50 extra agents deployed to Austin.
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