Bart Jansen; USA Today
WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration is preparing for some of the busiest travel days it has ever seen this summer, with a whopping 2.7 million travelers expected to fly from U.S. airports during peak days around holidays, Administrator David Pekoske said Thursday.
TSA typically screens 2.2 million to 2.3 million passengers per day, but anticipates larger crowds during June, July and August. The crush is expected to be particularly heavy around the holidays of Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Airline travel has been growing about 4% per year, and the growing economy is spurring more trips. The busiest screening day in TSA’s history was the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2004, when about 2.7 million people flew.
“That’s a very high volume,” Pekoske said. “We’re prepared for a busy summer travel season.”
In an effort to reduce hand-searching carry-on bags, TSA is trying to reduce clutter for X-ray screening in carry-on bags. To help with that, the agency is asking travelers to remove more objects than just larger electronics, sometimes including snacks.
Technology is another possibility to hasten screening. TSA has been experimenting with 3D scanners called Computed Tomography at checkpoints in Phoenix and Boston, which provide images that TSA officers can rotate digitally without needing to open the bag.
Congress approved $77 million for TSA to test 35 systems nationwide during the summer. Pekoske said the locations will avoid places where airports are strained by capacity during busy times.
The Trump administration’s budget proposal for next year would add 145 machines starting in early 2019, if testing goes well and if Congress approves the funding.
Airports and airlines have also bought equipment for a total of 130 automated screening lanes nationwide, and then gifted them to TSA for testing. These lanes feature conveyor belts that rotate carry-on bins automatically, and feature several locations for travelers to step up so that one slower person doesn’t slow down others.
“We’ve learned a lot in that process,” Pekoske said.
The ultimate goal is to combine CT scanners with automated lanes, he said.
“I think passengers have seen a pretty good result from that because rather than wait for the person in front of you to finish their divestment in front of you, five or in some cases six people can do it simultaneously,” Pekoske said. “That is our path forward on those, to look at procuring a system rather than components of a system. It’s better if TSA is not the integrator, in my opinion, in that process.”