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TSA chief expects "smooth" holiday travel despite projected increase in airport crowds

Head of TSA on Thanksgiving travel
TSA administrator David Pekoske on vaccine mandates and impact on Thanksgiving travel 05:05

The expected surge in holiday travel and the possible firing of unvaccinated Transportation Security Administration agents will not bring chaos to the nation's airports, the head of the TSA said Wednesday.

The most recent data show that about 40% of the agency's workforce had either not received a single COVID-19 vaccine shot or not submitted their vaccination status as of last month despite a looming November 22 deadline. Experts fear that a possible staff shortage would create the perfect storm across U.S. airports, which are expected to see up to 80% more travelers compared to last year, reaching near pre-pandemic levels.

But TSA Administrator David Pekoske brushed off those concerns, saying most passengers should expect to spend about 30 minutes going through security.

"If they're a pre-check passenger, 10 minutes or less," Pekoske told "CBS Mornings."

"I don't think they should expect chaos... We're very confident that this is going to be a very smooth operation over the next several days," he said.

As for the vaccine mandate, Pekoske said the number of TSA employees who have received at least one shot has "improved greatly" and that he does not expect Monday's deadline to have "any impact whatsoever on Thanksgiving travel." 

"And the good news for travelers is that more and more people, including TSA employees, are now vaccinated, so from a public health perspective it's a much safer experience," he said. 

Pekoske said terminations would come only after a "progressive discipline process" and after every request for medical or religious exemptions is considered. 

"So we'll go through the process of looking at each one of those individual cases and make a determination over the next several weeks," he said. "Yes, there is the potential if you do not have an approved exemption and you are not vaccinated that you will lose your job because it's very important that we have our workforce fully vaccinated."

In addition to flying, millions of Americans are also expected to hit the roads this Thanksgiving holiday, with AAA projecting that 53 million people will travel next week.

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