Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

waiting airport
  • There have been a lot of reports lately of chaos at the Austin airport.
  • This includes long lines, labor shortages, and canceled flights.
  • Unfortunately, these issues are likely to continue for a while at certain times of the week.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the much needed expansion of the Austin airport (“ABIA”). If you recall, under Project 2040, the plan is to build a new, additional terminal and expand and renovate the existing one. This expansion will increase ABIA’s capacity from 34 gates to at least 66.

As I wrote at the time, there is no doubt we need this. My friend Greg Anderson recently showed me a projection from the US Census Bureau that predicts the Austin metropolitan statistical area (“MSA”) will have approximately 5.3 million residents by 2050. So the current 34 gates are just not going to be sufficient.

Well since I wrote that article, there has been a lot of new excitement at ABIA. And it has not been the good kind of excitement. This week, therefore, I am writing about what’s going on at ABIA.

The Austin Airport has Significant Congestion


You may already know what I am going to write about as this has been in the news a lot lately. But ABIA has seen some incredible backups and shortages lately. Indeed, in the last week, there have been reports of:

  • Security lines that stretch outside the airport’s doors and down the block. Some reports have these lines taking three hours to get through.
  • People leaving rental cars on the side of the road and walking to the terminal because the car lanes are so backed up.
  • An excessive number of cancelled flights.
  • A shortage of fuel for incoming and outgoing flights.

I am sure you can imagine, therefore, there seems to have been a lot of chaos and unhappy travelers and workers recently at ABIA.

What is the Cause of the ABIA Chaos?


Obviously nobody wants to see these kinds of issues derail an important airport. And there is no doubt that ABIA is trying to solve these issues. But what needs to be fixed? What’s causing this? There are a few contributing factors:

  • Overcrowding – I talked about this in the previous article, but Austin is booming. And the current size of the airport is just not sufficient. And its not just the current residents – Austin has tons of tourists come through for festivals and concerts, etc. That’s one reason why the trouble has been centered around early morning flights on Monday and Tuesday. Its an incredibly busy time and ABIA is just not equipped for that kind of capacity.
  • Labor shortages – ABIA Executive Director Jacqueline Yaft asked for additional TSA agents weeks ago. But TSA apparently does not have the agents to spare. It has a labor shortage and, as a result, does not have enough TSA agents to fulfill ABIA’s needs. That will, obviously, lead to longer security lines.*
  • Tank Farm – ABIA is trying to solve its fuel needs by building extra fuel storage tanks on land near the airport. But according to Jack Craver’s email blog, the neighborhood groups are fighting this. As a result, approval for that storage area is currently held up at city council.

Combining all of these issues has lead to the big problems ABIA is currently facing – and will continue to face.

What is Next for ABIA?


So what do we do now? How do we continue to get flights to and from Austin?

First, I want to make clear that the airport is not always a disaster. As far as I can tell from the reports, the crazy times really are focused around early morning – especially at the beginning of the week. At other times, the airport is running normally.

But ABIA officials have warned that they do not expect the busy days and peak hour long lines to end any time soon.  That’s why the 2040 Project is so essential. The quicker we can get the additional gates to meet the growing capacity, the better. And lets hope that TSA can find a way to reduce its labor shortage and get ABIA the number of agents it needs.

Until then … well I certainly do not want to tell you to join CLEAR and TSA Precheck. Because that’s only going to make my lines longer.




*After writing this, TSA announced it was sending 15 new agents to Austin. So that’s obviously good news.

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