Can the TSA vaccinate enough screeners for Thanksgiving trips?


A potential shortage of airport screeners, sparked by a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, could result in extra-long lines at airport security checkpoints during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday travel week.

Only about 60% of Transportation Security Administration employees are at least partially vaccinated, about a month before the Nov. 22 deadline for fully vaccinating federal employees. Federal employees who flout the mandate face disciplinary action up to and including dismissal, according to the US Office of Personnel Management.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN last week he was “very confident” the agency won’t face a labor shortage, but said TSA was preparing contingency plans if it couldn’t be avoided.

The agency expects more TSA employees to be vaccinated in the coming weeks in hopes that “the vast majority of TSA agents will be vaccinated,” a spokesman said. The agency could not say how the vaccination rate of the screeners compared to that of the employees as a whole.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second vaccination in a two-dose series or two weeks after a single vaccination.

“At TSA, we hold employee town halls, send out emails and post details on break room requirements, how and where documents proving vaccination status can be uploaded,” said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.

The risk that the TSA might be forced to lay off much of its workforce before the holiday weekend prompted Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to urge the TSA to develop a contingency plan and increase vaccination rates before November 22 raise. He urged the agency to make more use of explosives detection dogs to move screening lines faster.

“Late last week, the TSA warned of potential real travel chaos as Thanksgiving approaches,” he said during a Sunday news conference. “And that’s because they reported that 40% of their workforce is not vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Airlines for America, the trade group that represents most of the nation’s airlines, declined to speculate about how the vaccination mandate might affect Thanksgiving travel plans, except to say in a statement: “We remain in routine communication with ours federal partners to prioritize a safe, seamless travel experience.”

Other government agencies and private companies report much higher vaccination compliance.

Several major U.S. airlines imposed vaccination requirements on their employees months before the Biden administration required all companies that contract with the federal government, including airlines, to impose such requirements.

United Airlines reported that more than 99% of its employees are vaccinated. Delta Air Lines has not imposed a mandate, but has told employees that if they do not get vaccinated by November 1, they will face a $200 monthly surcharge. As of last week, 90% of Delta employees were vaccinated.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, where employees could lose their jobs for defying vaccination mandates, 99% of classroom teachers and 97% of all staff complied.

The city of Los Angeles passed a vaccination mandate for all city employees in August, but was considering extending the deadline this week. Earlier this week, more than 72% of employees said they were either fully or partially vaccinated, according to a city report.

A spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA agents, directed all questions about the vaccination order to the TSA. However, the union released a website update making it clear that employees who refuse to be vaccinated are unlikely to win a court challenge to the mandate.

Travel websites and other data suggest Americans are ready to travel, perhaps in response to an overall drop in COVID-19 cases in many states.

Based on flight searches, travel website predicted that the number of travelers passing through U.S. airports will reach an average of 2 million passengers per day over the holiday weekend, about 80% of 2019 passenger numbers but more than doubling is high as 2020 .

Domestic round-trip ticket prices for Thanksgiving weekend are expected to average $290, down 13% from 2019, with international flights costing an average of $620, down 17% from 2019. However, Hopper predicts airfares will soon increase, particularly for international travel, after it was revealed the US plans to reopen the country to foreign travelers starting November 8.

In another analysis, the Adobe Digital Economy Index found that flight bookings for Thanksgiving were 2.6% higher in the first two weeks of October than in the same period in 2019.

“The increase suggests we may be at the beginning of a surge in holiday bookings,” said Adobe analyst Vivek Pandya. Can the TSA vaccinate enough screeners for Thanksgiving trips?

Russell Falcon

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