TSA vaccine mandate takes effect amid busy Thanksgiving travel week

Coronavirus

NEW YORK — A COVID vaccine mandate for security agents at airports across the country takes effect Monday, just as Thanksgiving holiday travel is expected to rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

However, the TSA said it is ready to handle the surge, regardless of the vaccination mandate.

Administrator David Pekoske said last Wednesday he didn’t think the vaccine mandate for TSA agents would have any effect on staffing for Thanksgiving week.

“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.”

As of recently, about 40% of TSA workers had not gotten the shot, however the agency says travelers shouldn’t notice any difference in their wait times due to the mandate.

The mandate, affecting all government workers, just happens to fall on the busiest travel week of the year.

Pekoske said he expects agency staffing to be sufficient. “We are prepared,” Pekoske told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

However, the biggest test will likely be on Tuesday, if agents don’t show up to work due to the mandate.

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

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.

Pekoske told NBC’s “Today” on Wednesday he remains “very concerned” about the issue of unruly passengers as incidents on airplanes have continued.

“The level of unruly behavior is much higher than I’ve ever seen it,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it has 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.

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