AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you’re planning to fly from Austin for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, get ready to wait in long lines at the airport.
Officials at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport said they expect a “significantly busier than usual terminal experience” throughout the holiday travel period — Friday, Nov. 19 through Monday, Nov. 29. That’s why this weekend the airport is recommending travelers to arrive at least three hours before their flight departs, even if they have TSA PreCheck or Clear.
Bryce Dubee, an airport spokesperson, said getting there so early should help people deal with the expectedly high travel volume and the likelihood that some fliers will include people who haven’t flown in a while because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean being in line for TSA three hours early,” Dubee said, “but it means if you’re going to be heading to the airport, coming in, being able to park, if you’re going to be dropping off bags, picking up boarding passes — all those different types of things — that really fills into that three-hour window. That’s why we’re encouraging folks to plan ahead and have that extra time.”
Tara McCarthy originally planned to arrive at 5 a.m. Monday for her 7 a.m. flight to New York. We told her about the three-hour recommendation.
“Wow, good to know,” she said, laughing. “I guess I’ll do that because if I miss my flight, I think my mom would kill me.”
Wait times are expected to be particularly long in the early morning hours, especially for passengers traveling before 9 a.m.
To help keep things running smoothly, more staff will be on hand – and staff members who usually don’t work on the terminal floor will assist with things like customer service, passenger direction and cleaning.
Dubee says he himself will help out in that regard. “We have staff even from other divisions within the department coming in to volunteer to assist during these busy times,” he said.
On Friday alone, Dubee expects about 28,400 passengers to go through TSA security checkpoints in Austin, while those numbers may climb closer to 30,000 or more on the weekend after Thanksgiving.
The airport already saw record-high passenger numbers last month. More than 35,000 people flew through AUS on the Monday after F1 weekend. Dubee said that experience dealing with record crowds led AUS to maintain recommendations this time for people to arrive early.
“With folks who followed those recommendations [during F1 weekend], it did move at a pretty steady clip throughout the day, so passengers were getting screened, passengers were getting onto flights,” Dubee said. “It’s something we feel like heading into this holiday season, while we know it is going to be busy, we just had a great opportunity to make sure that we could test out all those things last month.”
To address these issues, Dubee explained AUS changed some of its line-queuing procedures, and TSA began opening security checkpoints at 3:30 a.m., with PreCheck available at Checkpoints 1 and 2. He said staff members from other divisions are also volunteering to assist during these particularly busy times to increase staffing.
In another effort to help ease traffic, airport officials say passengers can be dropped off at both the upper and lower curbsides. The lower level is usually reserved for arriving passengers only.
Parking options are expected to fill up quickly, so passengers should plan ahead. The blue and red garages have limited reservations online. You can reserve a space and check real-time parking availability here.
Passengers requiring wheelchair assistance are asked to contact their airline directly prior to arriving at AUS.
Airport officials also remind travelers face masks are still required inside AUS and other airports. The requirement is in place through Jan. 18, 2022.
Nationwide, TSA says it expects Thanksgiving travel to be on par with 2019, when a record 26 million passengers and crew passed through airport screening in the 11-day period around Thanksgiving.