TSA vaccine mandate looms as busy holiday travel season kicks off

Nov 19, 2021

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As Americans prepare to take to the roads and skies as the holiday travel season kicks off, an ultimatum is looming at the TSA.

Most federal workers must be vaccinated by Nov. 22 under the executive order issued by the Biden Administration. Although the deadline for federal contractors — including most mainline airlines in the U.S. — was moved from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4, federal employees are required to adhere to the November deadline.

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The deadline comes on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, typically the start of the busy holiday travel period that continues through the weekend following New Year’s Eve. The timing has raised concerns amongst holiday travelers.

Only 60% of TSA screeners were vaccinated as of last month, TSA administrator David Pekoske told CNN.

In the weeks since, the agency has held town halls and other information sessions with employees. Also in October, the TSA suggested that the 60% figure was actually an undercount and that some employees simply had not submitted their vaccine cards yet, saying that thousands were uploading their cards each week.

The TSA has about 50,000 screeners, the agency said on its website, and 269 had active COVID-19 infections as of Thursday. Over the course of the pandemic, 11,157 TSA workers have had COVID-19, and 32 have died.

The TSA declined to share the current percent of its employees that are vaccinated, but told TPG on Thursday that it does not expect any impact on holiday travel caused by the vaccine mandate or associated staffing shortages.

Related: American adds pay incentives to avoid holiday staffing woes

“While I can’t share data yet, the compliance rate is very high, and we do not anticipate any disruptions because of the vaccination requirements,” a TSA spokesperson said in a statement. “TSA is working diligently to implement our vaccine requirement, including by promoting vaccination and ensuring every TSA employee is uploading their attestation information. We have made good progress, and we are still collecting vaccination data.”

The spokesperson reiterated that although the agency does not anticipate disruptions or staffing shortages linked to the vaccine requirement, the agency expects to see a surge in travel demand over the Thanksgiving period, and suggests arriving early.

It was not immediately clear what would happen to TSA employees who fail to meet the deadline, including whether they would be immediately fired or suspended.

Featured photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

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