Missouri’s two largest airports have geared up for the two busiest air travel days of the year that bookend the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
St. Louis Lambert International which handles the most traffic and is the 32nd busiest airport in the country, has 22,000 passengers checking in Wednesday with 24,000 doing the same on Sunday.
Kansas City International (KCI), which ranks 40th in passenger traffic, reports similar if slightly lower numbers for the same days, noting it’ll have an increased number of late arrivals between midnight-and-1 a.m. Sunday.
Justin Meyer, the KCI Deputy Director of Aviation, says the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), as well as the airlines, have staffed up for the onslaught of passengers. “For example, this morning we didn’t have a single line at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter because they had every single possible position open,” said Meyer.
The extended Thanksgiving holiday travel period actually got underway last Friday, November 16. Lambert International in St. Louis is projecting a four percent increase in departing passengers over a 10-day period that extends through Sunday, with the airport forecasting that approximately 182,000 passengers will check in and go through security checkpoints during that period. That’s an increase of more than 8,000 passengers from the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday travel period.
Jeff Lea, the Public Information Manager at Lambert International, says TSA is using K-9’s at some security checkpoints to help ease the flow of passengers toward their gates. “This morning we had a K-9 at Terminal 2 which serves Southwest, really to help expedite and push the traffic through,” said Lea. “The K-9 can eliminate having to take off your shoes, your belt, remove the laptop from your carry-on. The K-9 will do its check as people walk by.” TSA has four specially trained K-9’s deployed at Lambert International to help with safety and passenger flow through checkpoints. The dogs all work different schedules.
KCI’s Meyer points out that movement through airport terminals is slower during peak holiday travel time because those passengers tend to fly less frequently than business people. Leisure travelers may not be up to speed with TSA’s 3-1-1 security rule for flying with carry-on liquids, which limits bottle size to 3.4 ounces while bags can’t be larger than 1 quart (must be clear, plastic, zip-top bags) and 1 bag is allowed per passenger. The federal government implemented the 3-1-1 security rule in 2002 in response to the attacks on 9/11 in 2001.
Meyer says the crossover from business to holiday travelers happens quickly at most airports. “We could go walk through the terminals this afternoon and probably find it impossible to find someone that’s truly on a business trip today,” Meyer said. “The airplanes are full and they’re full of leisure friends and family travel.”
He says there’s a noticeable pattern among business travelers who change their work schedules after having been holiday passengers. “Instead of being gone Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and coming home Wednesday, this week I’ll be flying out on Tuesday and be gone Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and coming back Saturday, something like that,” said Meyer.
Lea notes TSA is using Lambert International as part of a pilot program to introduce checkpoint scanner technology. “We have one of the pilot machines that sort of does a 3-D look at what’s in the carry-on bags versus a static shot,” Lea said. The new technology scanner is currently operational at one checkpoint in St. Louis. TSA expects to have 40 units in airports throughout the country by the end of 2018 and more than 145 by October 2019. The federal agency, which is under the Department of Homeland Security claims the scanner provides critical explosives detection capabilities at the checkpoint.
Both of Missouri’s busiest airports are experiencing sustained growth in passenger traffic. Lambert International in St. Louis has seen consecutive total passenger growth for the past 37 months while KCI in Kansas City saw its largest volume of passengers for the months of September and October in the airport’s history this year.