RDU readies for busy Thanksgiving travel season

Local News

MORRISVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – Busy, busy, busy.

That’s how TSA representatives and airport officials are describing the pre-Thanksgiving travel rush.

Nationwide, on Sunday alone, more than 2.2 million people hit the skies.

It’s the start of a busy holiday week.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport leaders are anticipating more than 234,000 people to travel through the airport for the holiday.

But on Monday, RDU was fairly empty.

The TSA security line was short, and the lines at the check-in counters flowed quickly.

It was certainly a different travel rush than many people had prepared for.

“We’re not leaving until 5:30,” said Maureen and Carol Fodera, who were heading back to Boston after a quick visit in Raleigh.

They came into the airport expecting long security lines.

“It’s 12:17,” Fodera said.

“So you came five hours early?” CBS 17 crews asked her.

The response was a “yes.” They were worried about the crowds.

Instead, the Foderas were greeted by a much different sight.

“It’s empty,” they laughed. “[We’re] definitely surprised.”

It’s something many travelers were grateful for, ahead of the holiday many people are spending together for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“I’m going home for Thanksgiving to see my dad and the rest of my family,” said Brandi Cadue, who was heading to Kansas. “I was expecting it to be a lot more busy, which it’s not, thankfully.”

But it will be.

“We intent to welcome 234,000 passengers this week,” said Stephanie Hawco, a spokeswoman for the airport.

That’s a 129 percent increase of Thanksgiving travel, compared to last year.

Hawco said it’s 75 percent of travel rates in 2019.

She said the crowds will come.

“We have a couple of peaks during the day. We have a lot of flights that leave early in the morning, we have some that leave mid-day, and then we have another batch in early evening,” explained Hawco.

Airport officials are expecting travel to pick up closer to the holiday and are encouraging people to come to the airport two hours before their flight, to make sure they can board on time.

It’s a sign to Hawco that things may be going back to normal.

“For me to just look around here, and see people checking in and getting through security, and getting off to visit family and friends, it’s a wonderful thing,” she said.

But many travelers are keeping an eye on an important deadline.

Monday marked the federal employee vaccine mandate, which includes TSA workers.

“There is the potential, if you do not have an approved exemption and you aren’t vaccinated, that you will lose your job,” said David Pekoske, a TSA administrator.

Compliance rates and travel implications were sources of concern for some travelers.

“It’s unreasonable,” said Linda Herring, who flew in from Florida.

She’s not a fan of the mandate.

“We’re very happy we could get vaccinated, but I’m 100 percent against the mandates,” explained Herring. “I think it’s intrusive and I think people should be able to decide for themselves.”

A TSA representative told CBS17, 93percent of TSA workers have rolled up their sleeves for the COVID shot.

According to the federal website, TSA employs about 60,000 workers.

That means a little over 4,000 people have yet to get the shot.

Herring hopes that the mandate won’t interfere with travel plans.

“I don’t envy the people who get stuck, because the TSA workers are going to be possibly impacted,” she said.

Pekoske said that won’t happen.

“I don’t expect the vaccine mandate to have any impact whatsoever on Thanksgiving travel,” he explained. “The good news for travelers, more and more people, including TSA employees are now vaccinated. So, from a public health perspective, it’s a much safer experience.”

CBS 17 tried to find out from RDU officials and TSA leaders how many TSA workers at DU have yet to get vaccinated.

A TSA representative told CBS 17 they do not have an airport by airport breakdown.

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