Abandoned rental cars snaked down the road outside Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Monday morning and passengers waited in a security line that reached outside the terminal and onto the sidewalk.
Some travelers waited in security lines for hours, missed flights or even had to make alternate travel arrangements over the weekend as the airport was unable to handle unusually high passenger traffic generated in part by several high-profile sporting events.
Airport officials on Monday even took the step of issuing a fuel shortage alert due to a lack of available fuel supply — a measure an airport spokesperson said is becoming more common as the airport gets busier with more scheduled flights. A fuel shortage alert calls for flights to arrive with more fuel than normal in case there is no fuel available for them at ABIA.
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Airport officials said in a statement that ABIA regularly sees high volumes of passengers, especially Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays before 8 am Staffers with the federal Transportation Security Administration moved almost 9,000 passengers before 8 am Sunday, March 27 and about 8,250 before that time Monday.
“These volumes reflect thousands of Austin visitors traveling home after attending events,” including the Texas Relays, the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play and NASCAR races at Circuit of the Americas, the statement said. “In response to the strong demand for air travel, (the airport) continues to expedite terminal improvements through the Airport Expansion and Development Program and through working alongside our partners, like the TSA, to fill staff vacancies.”
Sandy Musa, who lives about 20 minutes from the airport, said she didn’t even bother with the security line Monday morning when she saw it was outside the building. She arrived at 6 am, about 90 minutes before her flight to Las Vegas for a work conference. When she spoke to a security staff member, she said, she was told there was no way she was going to make her flight.
“The line was wrapped from one end of the airport to the other,” she said. “It’s not like it was just a few people hanging out by the automatic doors. You had to go to one end or the other of the airport to be in one of those lines. I would never have made it even if I got there two hours before.”
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Musa said she was frustrated that the airport didn’t communicate to passengers on social media in advance how early they should plan to arrive to make flights, given the unusual volume of people. She said she was still deciding whether she wanted to try to catch another flight later Monday or give up on the trip altogether.
Patricia Mancha, a spokesperson for the TSA in southwestern states including Texas, said the Austin airport had 15,000 more visitors a day this weekend compared with the normal course of travel. She cited the sporting events in the area as well as airlines adding flights to their schedules out of Austin as factors.
Mancha said the TSA in Austin prepared for the weekend by bringing in additional staffing and approving overtime hours. Mancha also said Austin isn’t alone in increased travel volume. Nationwide, 2.3 million people passed through an airport security checkpoint Sunday, compared with 1.57 million on that day last year.
The Austin airport also had a line of abandoned rental cars to contend with Monday morning, causing some people additional delays.
“The rental car return line was due to a bit of an irregular situation. What happened was one rental car stalled out at the drop-off curb,” airport officials said in a statement. “Rental car staff instructed the customers to go ahead and leave the vehicle with the keys in it. This caused other passengers with rental cars to follow suit, and leave their rental cars alongside the curb. Once airport staff was alerted to this, we got in touch with the rental car company to request additional staff be dispatched … to move the vehicles from the curb.”
Kelly Nagel, who was in Austin over the weekend for a wedding, said she was among those who left her rental car with the keys on the front seat to make her flight after sitting in line to return the vehicle for about 30 minutes Monday morning.
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Nagel said she was able to bypass much of the security line because she has TSA PreCheck and was able to make her flight home to Pennsylvania. She said she got a call during her layover from the rental car company that the vehicle had been safely returned.
Mancha said the best way people can help make security move more quickly is by arriving with plenty of time to spare and not packing prohibited items in their carry-on luggage. People should plan to arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international one, she said.
“When people bring prohibited items to the checkpoint, they slow down the line,” she said. “TSA, the airport, the airlines, we’re all working together to get folks to their final destination. So it’s really important for people to pack their patience. Our folks are really trying to help you get through.”