DALLAS — The nation’s TSA chief, David Pekoske, and airport and airline leaders say there will be inevitable ‘hiccups’ this summer as they expect the largest airport passenger crowds since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Labor shortages and sky-high demand have besieged the travel industry, and Pekoske said the agency is ready to deploy as many as 1,000 TSA agents and K-9 units to pain points across the country to counter potential backlogs at airport security checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration created a position for new hires that will get them up to speed faster and to staff checkpoints better, helping experienced TSA agents with tasks that don’t require certification.

“We expect the summer to be very, very busy,” said Pekoske, who was recently nominated for a second five-year term by President Joe Biden. “That’s not to say that there will not be some hiccups along the way — those things will happen, but we’ll do everything we can to recover quickly.”

Pekoske spoke May 10 at a meeting at Homeland Security offices in Coppell.

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Some expect airport crowds to surpass 3 million passengers a day on the busiest travel days this summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But the demand comes with challenges, too.


Pilots are complaining about fatigue and flight cancellations heading into the summer at airlines including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska and Delta.

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Airport restaurants are once again begging for employees, and there have also been shortages of workers at car rental desks, at customer service call center workers for airlines and of the people who push wheelchairs and ground employees who pull planes back and forth from gates.

“Everybody is facing labor shortages; airlines and TSA are no different,” said Paul Doell, vice president for the National Air Carrier Association. “At just about every level you can think of in the airline industry we can speak of we’re having labor shortages.”

Airlines themselves are honing in on running reliable operations this summer and cutting down on the number of delays and cancellations that have sometimes plagued travelers during peak periods in the last year. That has led some, including Southwest Airlines, to cut thousands of flights from schedules. While that could help airlines run on time, it will also mean planes will be more full and pressure will be on workers in airports, including TSA agents, to get those travelers to flights on time.

But regional air carriers, which fly about 43% of all scheduled flights in the U.S., say they are facing labor shortages as employees such as pilots are being poached by the larger airlines. That could create issues connecting smaller destinations to larger hub airports, Black said.


“The pilot shortage is impacting the regionals, and we expect to see the small communities hit the hardest,” Black said. “We expect this to continue to be a trend, but those pain points will assert themselves at hubs as well.”

TSA has already suffered some extraordinary long waits at airports that have seen passenger volumes surpass 2019 levels, including at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Orlando International Airport.

Pekoske also warned that many travelers this summer could be getting on a plane for the first time in three years, especially as masking and COVID-19 restrictions have fallen in many parts of the country and international travel restrictions are being lifted.

“The amount of people that worked concessions prior to the pandemic are not there now,” said Kevin Burke, head of Airports Council International-North America. “They’ve come back, but they’re nowhere near where they need to be.”

That confluence of issues could make for a challenging summer for passengers and airline employees alike.

“So we really ask that we try to have patience and understanding when they are dealing with employees at the airport,” Doell said. “Everybody’s trying to do the best job they to can make sure this is safe, secure and also as comfortable as it can be under normal circumstances but especially when you have those tough days where you have storms that are disrupting the system.”



Tips for smoother summer travel

— Start with a clean bag: Empty out luggage and backpacks completely before you start packing so unwanted and banned items don’t get left in.

— Book parking online: Airports such as DFW International give discounts for buying parking through apps and parking lots may be full for those that don’t buy in advance.

— Sign up for trusted travel programs: TSA Global Entry ($100) and Pre-Check ($85) will cut security checkpoint times down to five minutes or less on average and reduce the hassle.

— Plan for “hiccups”: Restaurants and stores at airports are still facing a worker shortage. Pack food and make extra time if you need to eat during connections.

— Embrace touchless: Many airlines transitioned to kiosks and touchless check-in points during COVID-19.