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TSA sees most airline passengers since start of pandemic as Thanksgiving travel kicks off

Holiday air travel expected to hit pandemic record
Holiday air travel expected to hit pandemic record 01:55

For weeks, officials have been forecasting a rise in the number of holiday travelers this year. On Friday, their predictions were proven correct — the Transportation Security Administration reported a record number of flyers since the pandemic began in early 2020. 

"@TSA officers screened 2,242,956 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Friday, Nov. 19," TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted Saturday morning. "It's the highest checkpoint volume since passenger volume tanked in early 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The Thanksgiving travel period has begun! #MaskUp"

With Thanksgiving just days away, the number of travelers is expected to continue to climb. Last week, experts predicted holiday travel could be up as much as 80% over last year, when COVID-19 kept many people at home. 

In 2020, the TSA screened around 1 million travelers per day in the week surrounding Thanksgiving. However, the agency saw a record number of travelers the year before. In fact, TSA reported its busiest travel day ever on December 1, 2019, with 2,870,764 people screened.

Also adding to this year's holiday travel crunch — a November 22 deadline for all TSA workers to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or risk being fired. As of last month, the most recent month for which data is available, 40% of the agency's employees had either not submitted the required paperwork or not been inoculated.

Holiday travel expected to near pre-pandemic levels 02:10

TSA Administrator David Pekoske has brushed off concerns of staffing shortages, telling "CBS Mornings" on Wednesday that the agency's vaccination numbers have "improved greatly." He said 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.

Earlier this month, AAA said more than 53 million Americans were expected to travel over the holiday weekend, a sharp rebound in Thanksgiving travel that nearly matches pre-pandemic levels. Up to 90% of travelers are expected to drive, according to AAA.

Those planning to drive should hit the road Wednesday before noon or Thursday morning if they're not traveling too far, AAA said. 

Nelson Oliveira contributed reporting.

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