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 Monday morning’s deadline, approximately 93% of TSA employees were in compliance with the mandate and exemption requirements, according to TSA spokesperson Linda Farbstein.
“The employee vaccine mandate will not impact holiday travel,” Farbstein wrote in a tweet.
The mandate, in place for all federal workers, just happened to fall on the busiest travel week of the year.
However, Pekoske said travelers should still expect long lines at airports and plan to spend a little more time getting through security, similar to previous holidays before 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.
TSA TIME-LAPSE: this is the line to get into the security queue at @LGAairport Terminal B. It’s the busiest travel week of the year. But it’s also the day vaccine mandates take effect for @TSA workers. @PIX11News pic.twitter.com/CPONrQMf17— Anthony DiLorenzo (@ADiLorenzoTV) November 22, 2021
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.