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Travel chaos looms for Thanksgiving with 20 million people expected to fly

A perfect storm is brewing for the busiest travel week of the year, with severe weather forecasts, post-pandemic record levels of travelers, and President Joe Biden‘s vaccine mandate deadline for federal workers all converging to cause potential chaos.

The Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday it expects to screen about 20 million air passengers during the busy Thanksgiving travel period, shattering post-pandemic records.

But TSA screeners, like all federal employees, face a Monday deadline to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19, and last month the agency revealed only 60 percent of its workers have been vaccinated so far.

The TSA insists that the deadline will not result in any shortage of airport screeners, but the union that represents TSA workers has already publicly pleaded with the Biden administration to delay the mandate until after the holiday season.

TSA screeners, like all federal employees, face a Monday deadline to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19, raising the potential for widespread sickouts and suspensions

TSA said it expects to screen about 20 million air passengers during the busy Thanksgiving travel period, shattering post-pandemic records

TSA said it expects to screen about 20 million air passengers during the busy Thanksgiving travel period, shattering post-pandemic records

Meanwhile two severe weather systems threaten to disrupt Thanksgiving travel

Meanwhile two severe weather systems threaten to disrupt Thanksgiving travel

In a letter to the White House this month, the president of the TSA’s union, the American Federation of Government Employees, pointed out that the vaccine deadline for federal employees had already been pushed back to January 4.

‘This double standard has caused confusion and distress among federal employees due to disparate treatment and incongruent deadlines for people who perform the government’s work in the same settings,’ wrote AFGE National President Everett Kelley.

The latest public information about vaccination rates among TSA workers is now more than a month old, so it remains unclear how widespread sickouts and suspensions might be if the mandate is strictly enforced.

On Wednesday, TSA Administrator David Pekoske insisted that he expects agency staffing to be sufficient for what’s traditionally the busiest travel period of the year. 

‘We are prepared,’ Pekoske told ABC’s Good Morning America. 

He said travelers should expect long lines at airports and plan to spend a little more time getting through security. 

Pekoske said he didn’t think a vaccine mandate going into effect for TSA agents Monday would have any effect on staffing for Thanksgiving next week.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske insisted that he expects agency staffing to be sufficient for what's traditionally the busiest travel period of the year

TSA Administrator David Pekoske insisted that he expects agency staffing to be sufficient for what’s traditionally the busiest travel period of the year 

Travel experts are advising air travelers to arrive at the airport at least two hours before their scheduled flight, in order to allow for potential delays

Travel experts are advising air travelers to arrive at the airport at least two hours before their scheduled flight, in order to allow for potential delays

‘In fact, implementation of the mandate will make travel safer and healthier for everyone,’ he said. ‘So, we see quite a significant increase in the number of our officers that are vaccinated, and I’m very confident that there will be no impact for Thanksgiving.’

Travel experts are advising air travelers to arrive at the airport at least two hours before their scheduled flight, in order to allow for potential delays in the screening process. 

Meanwhile, severe weather could also throw a major wrench in the travel plans of many Americans.

Forecasters with AccuWeather predict that snows may blanket the Great Lakes on Sunday, and a possible bomb cyclone will threaten the Atlantic Coast a day or two later. 

‘We could be looking at a huge mess and a real wrench in holiday travel,’ AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jon Porter said. 

Two separate systems are forecast next week: A wintry storm that will develop over the Great Lakes on Sunday, and a separate storm will develop off the Atlantic Coast a day or two later

Two separate systems are forecast next week: A wintry storm that will develop over the Great Lakes on Sunday, and a separate storm will develop off the Atlantic Coast a day or two later

The coastal storm could hook in to New England, developing into a bomb cyclone

The coastal storm could hook in to New England, developing into a bomb cyclone

It could also hug the coast and move north, mostly impacting coastal cities

It could also hug the coast and move north, mostly impacting coastal cities

The second storm could hit the densely populated Northeast on the day before Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the busiest single day of travel all year.

That storm has the potential to develop into a bomb cyclone, a severe weather event that would massively disrupt air travel.

High winds, rain and snow all have the potential to further disrupt airline operations that have recently struggled due to staffing shortages.

‘A major storm may significantly compound airport and airline operational challenges that have plagued the air travel industry of late,’ Porter said. 

Travel group AAA forecasts 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13 percent from 2020, with most travelers going by car. 

Air travel is set to explode from last year’s levels, with 20 million projected to fly, compared to just 10 million last year.

It would still be slightly under the all-time air travel record of 26 million set in 2019.

Air travel is set to explode from last year's levels, with 20 million projected to fly, compared to just 10 million last year

Air travel is set to explode from last year’s levels, with 20 million projected to fly, compared to just 10 million last year

Delta Air Lines said it expects to fly up to 5.6 million passengers from Friday through November 30, nearly 300 percent over 2020’s 2.2 million Delta passengers for the period but still below the 6.3 million passengers during the same period in 2019.

United Airlines said it anticipates more than 4.5 million passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period – about 88 percent of 2019 volume.

United said it was adding about 700 domestic flights for Thanksgiving week, and would fly 87 percent of its 2019 domestic schedule in November.

Last week, the Biden administration lifted travel restrictions for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries, including China, South Africa, Brazil and much of Europe.

The United States also last week lifted restrictions on fully vaccinated tourists traveling across land borders from Mexico and Canada.  

The United States also last week lifted restrictions on fully vaccinated tourists traveling across land borders from Mexico and Canada.  


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