Passenger volume at US airports nearing prepandemic levels as TSA staffs up

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Passengers are flooding back to airports across the nation this Thanksgiving, even nearing precoronavirus pandemic levels. 

On Sunday, more than 2.1 million people were screened at airport checkpoints across the nation, 10% fewer people than were screened on the same day two years ago, according to Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.  

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In comparison, the TSA screened approximately 2,396,681 people on Nov. 14, 2019, Farbstein said. 

Travelers queue up in long lines to pass through the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport in Denver.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File / AP Newsroom)

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, a record 26 million passengers and crew passed through U.S. airport screening in the 11-day period around Thanksgiving. But that plummeted in 2020 as the pandemic kept people at home, further hindering the once-lucrative industry. 

Now, AAA projects that air travel has "almost completely" recovered after being stifled during the pandemic by travel restrictions and global lockdowns and is "up 80% over last year." 

The association estimated that approximately 4.2 million people will travel by plane for the Thanksgiving break. 

Travelers wear face coverings in the line for the south security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport on Aug. 24, 2021, in Denver.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski / AP Newsroom)

However, with the uptick in numbers comes added pressure on airports to staff up amid the bustling season, especially after a year filled with unruly passengers who in some cases became physical toward flight crew and fellow passengers. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it has already referred 37 cases involving unruly airline passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution since the number of disruptions on flights began to spike in January.

FAA SENDS 37 UNRULY PASSENGER CASES TO FBI FOR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION REVIEW

Although the TSA says it is ready to handle the surge in passengers, it's been initiating mass recruitment efforts at a variety of major airports nationwide. 

The TSA is holding multiple recruiting events this weekend for people interested in working at the Tampa International Airport in Florida as well as the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Michigan. 

Both airports are in need of full- and part-time officers, according to the TSA. 

Travelers wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reclaim their luggage at the airport in Denver, Colorado, Nov. 24, 2020. (REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt/File Photo) (Reuters)

Earlier this month, the TSA announced it was looking to hire officers at airports across upstate New York, including at Syracuse Hancock International Airport, Albany International Airport and Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, and offered applicants a $500 hiring bonus and an additional $500 bonus after one year of service. 

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Shortly after, the agency also announced that it was hiring full- and part-time TSA officers at the Denver International Airport. The TSA touted that the starting salary was $21.72 per hour and that new hires would receive $1,000 upon starting. Officers would then get an additional $1,000 after one year of service, the TSA said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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