For two days in a row over the holiday weekend, the Transportation Security Administration recorded checkpoint throughput numbers exceeding 1 million travelers per day, for the first time since Jan. 4. The traffic numbers are a significant increase after TSA reported a milestone slump last month.
TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said those numbers were actually reduced by winter storms, which upset many travel plans. Nearly 4,000 Sunday and Monday flights within, into and out of the United States were canceled because of a major winter storm, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“We saw so many flights impacted by weather, which may have resulted in cancellations,” Farbstein said. “It could have been higher.”
Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new mask mandate for transportation systems, including airports and planes, in the United States, travelers took to Twitter to voice concerns over crowded airports and mask noncompliance.
“We are strongly encouraging people to wear masks because of the new mandate,” Farbstein said. “The vast majority of passengers are doing their part and masking.”
Ahead of the holiday weekend, a CDC spokesperson told The Washington Post in an email that leisure travel is not recommended at this time.
“Delay spring break travel until 2022,” the spokesperson said. “Travel increases the chances of spreading and getting COVID-19.”
While traveler confidence is returning with the arrival of coronavirus vaccines, health experts warn that coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are high across the United States. More worrisome still are the highly transmissible variants of the virus quickly spreading across the country.
“Even for those who are vaccinated, it is important to avoid travel to decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19 to others,” the CDC spokesperson said.
As coronavirus vaccines become increasingly available, the Department of Homeland Security is accelerating its distribution to TSA employees, Farbstein said. On Jan. 21, DHS launched Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce (VOW), an initiative to get its front-line workers, including TSA agents, vaccinated.
“In accordance with CDC guidelines, nearly 54,000 TSA employees are eligible for priority access to the vaccine,” Farbstein said in a follow-up email. “That figure includes mission-essential, public-facing employees who work at airports and other transportation hubs whom have regular interaction with members of the public as a primary part of their work duties.”
More on travel during the pandemic: