Additional screeners should take burden off airline personnel
For anyone who has traveled by air in the last several years, seeing passenger and baggage screeners from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport meant that the end of a long wait was near.
This winter, seeing TSA screeners in the Gunnison/Crested Butte Regional Airport will mean that the wait won’t be as long to begin with.
After reviewing the increased number of flights scheduled to land at the airport, county commissioner Jim Starr said the TSA would possibly double the number of screeners to keep lines moving and people happy.
“[TSA] essentially doubled their commitment as far as individuals they would have working at the airport this winter. We’re doing everything we can to not only fill those flights, but make sure that once people get here and then leave, that they have as positive an experience as they can,” said Starr.
On an average September Saturday, two flights with a total of 74 passengers arrive at the airport. By the end of December, the number of arriving passengers will jump to nearly 700, and two of the arriving flights will make it to the terminal just minutes apart.
Currently there are six TSA personnel who screen passengers and baggage at the airport, after two resignations this summer.
According to airport manager John DeVore, the airport staff is hoping to have the support of 16 TSA personnel working the airport throughout the ski season.
“Last year there was a spread in the flight schedule such that [TSA] didn’t need 16 people. They had 12 and it was fine. But for everyone who handles customers, there will be increases and this will help so we don’t have a train wreck and people miss flights because screening took too long,” says DeVore.
As a result of TSA’s analyses of the flight schedule, more people will be added to the team of passenger and baggage screeners who already patrol the airport, trying to detect threats. But the airport isn’t guaranteed to get all that extra help.
Airport administrative director Kathie Lucas says getting double the number of TSA screeners at the airport will be difficult.
“[Doubling the TSA staff] is really not very easy. They are looking at increasing staffing here. TSA does all these calculations and they have told us there will be an increase in staff, but nobody can give any more information than that,” says Lucas.
The additional help that does come to the airport will be drawn from a national pool that was created by the TSA to accommodate the needs of airports that have flight levels that fluctuate seasonally, like Gunnison/Crested Butte Regional.
The TSA employees in the pool work in places like Alaska and Florida, which need help in the summer season; the employees then move to airports near ski destinations and other popular destinations in winter. The Department of Homeland Security will pay for any additional TSA personnel required at the airport.
“TSA does indeed have a system in place to look at the types of flights we have coming in and how many people they have in place. That group of screeners that is nationwide moves around so they can pull them here,” says Lucas.
Part of the motivation for bringing more screeners to the airport for high traffic times of the year is the overlap in duties that occurred last winter when additional TSA staff were not available.
“Last year, at times when it got busy, we didn’t have near as many flights coming in as we will this year,” says Starr. “But still, the folks who worked the stations for the various airlines had to help the TSA at times. We wanted to impress upon them that those folks would not have the personnel to do that this year.”
Throughout the year, the airport maintains a staff of 11 people who perform various duties and work four 10-hour shifts that rotate on Wednesday. For the winter, the shifts will rotate on Saturday to maximize the number of employees at the airport at its busiest times, says DeVore.
On weekdays, there are five flights that will arrive to and depart from the airport, along with two flights making the trip on the weekends.
Some of the tasks that airline personnel had to perform were shuttling bags from one point to another and taking up non-screening tasks that TSA staff at the airport could not cover.
“TSA has certain rules and regulations that they operate under and the airlines also play a part in that,” says Lucas. “The airline people may have moved bags to where they needed to be, but nobody that works for the airline was screening bags or people.”
For Lucas, the mutual assistance that would go on at the busiest times in the airport is indicative of all that is nice about working in a small airport. “At this airport, we are so lucky to have the people that get along. We have people working together and if somebody needs a little helping hand, if it’s going to make their job easier, then they get a helping hand,” she says.
All of the airports that service ski resorts in the state and nation will draw from the same pool of mobile screeners. More information on the numbers of screeners that will be added to the staff and the date on which they will start will be available between the middle of October and November, says Lucas.