Skip to content

Busy summer? TSA says it needs 6,000 new officers to meet skyrocketing travel demand

May 19, 2021
5 min read
Busy summer? TSA says it needs 6,000 new officers to meet skyrocketing travel demand
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

More than 1,850,000 people passed through TSA checkpoints in the United States on Sunday, May 16. That figure represents more than seven times the number of flyers on the same Sunday in 2020.

While passenger numbers are still far off their 2019 highs — when nearly 3 million would pass through TSA checkpoints on busier days — flyer figures are approaching the numbers we were used to seeing on quieter days before the pandemic hit.

With even more Americans expected to take to the skies this summer, paired with the possibility of a jump in international visitors, TSA screeners could be entering unfamiliar territory — pre-pandemic passenger numbers paired with COVID-era safety measures and restrictions, plus a workforce that's thousands shy of the Transportation Security Administration's goal.

Related: Vaccinated Americans are booking up summer vacations

As of now, the TSA suggests that it's ready to meet the challenge. According to a spokesperson:

"We are confident that we are prepared for the summer travel volume of passengers and we will continue to hire after summer and into the fall. We have set an annual hiring goal of 6,000 TSA officers, which we expect will position us to meet the increasing travel demand as the country continues to recover from the pandemic into the busy November and December holiday seasons. With that in mind, TSA is looking to hire as many new officers as we can, as soon as we can, which enables us to plan ahead."

Still, a rapid jump in demand could put pressure on the agency and its employees, many of whom may be looking to take time off for vacations of their own — or possibly lured away by higher-paying jobs as private companies continue to expand to meet their own pandemic-recovery demand.

If the TSA isn't able to staff up quickly enough, an officer shortage could lead to longer checkpoint lines — a sight we haven't encountered since the federal government shutdown in 2019.

The nation's biggest airlines have all recently scaled up their operations significantly as a travel recovery takes hold.

TPG also reached out to Airlines for America (A4A), the U.S. trade that represents most big U.S. carriers. While A4A stopped short of expressing concern regarding summer staffing levels, a spokesperson shared a familiar message, suggesting that flyers bake in extra time before their flight:

Sign up for our daily newsletter
"With air travel on the rise, U.S. airlines are working with our federal partners to ensure that travelers have as smooth a journey as possible this summer. We are in constant communication with TSA regarding our flight schedules and expected passenger volumes so that it can appropriately staff airports. With new procedures in place at the airport and with many people traveling for the first time since before the pandemic, we urge travelers to arrive early and allow additional time to clear security."

Delta added its own comments to TPG, reiterating that recommendation to arrive with plenty of time to complete check-in and security formalities:

"As more and more customers reclaim the joy of travel this summer, Delta continues to work closely with the TSA as they manage volumes at security checkpoints. This includes sharing of our expected customer load data at specific times for planning purposes, and where possible, assigning Delta people to assist with queuing and way-finding at peak times. We also encourage our customers to consider enrolling in TSA PreCheck and Clear to expedite their security screening. Arrival at the airport at least two hours prior to a domestic departure and three hours prior to an international departure continues to be what we recommend for customers."

Both TSA PreCheck and Clear can help get you through security much more quickly, especially during peak periods. Personally, I have both, an often use them together to jump to the front of the PreCheck line.

Related: Clear expedited airport security program — Is it worth it?

A Clear membership has long been an easy sell for Delta and United elites — access is completely free for top-tier Diamond members, just as it is for Premier 1Ks at United. The American Express® Green Card can also net you a significant discount — you'll earn an up to $100 statement credit per calendar year when you use the card to purchase a Clear membership. The information for the Amex Green card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

If you're planning to travel this summer or beyond, it could be worth signing up for both TSA PreCheck and Clear now — in most cases, you'll be able to speed through security, even if checkpoints end up being short-staffed this summer, leading to long queues.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in work as a TSA officer, the agency would love to have you apply. As a TSA spokesperson explained, "TSA officers are federal employees and receive full federal benefits, which include paid annual leave, paid sick leave, educational benefits, membership into TSA PreCheck and retirement benefits." You can begin the process right here.

Featured graphic courtesy of the TSA

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

BEST FOR DINING AND GROCERY REWARDS
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

Earn 60,000 points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There’s a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It’s been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you’re hitting the skies soon, you’ll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there’s no reason that the foodie shouldn’t add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x).
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel.
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months.

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories.
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits.
  • Few travel perks and protections.
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
BEST FOR DINING AND GROCERY REWARDS
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

    Earn 60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There’s a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It’s been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you’re hitting the skies soon, you’ll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there’s no reason that the foodie shouldn’t add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x).
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel.
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months.

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories.
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits.
  • Few travel perks and protections.