TSA

TSA officers buy meals, stock pantries for airport co-workers affected by COVID-19

Courtesy TSA

(Our story about TSA workers helping airport workers during the pandemic first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version.)

The steep decline in air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered layoffs, furloughs and shortened work hours for many airport employees, including wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, janitorial crews and concessions staff.

But in a growing number of cities their co-workers from the Transportation Security Administration, who continue to receive paychecks, are stepping up to help. They’re hosting temporary food pantries in airports around the nation and providing free lunches and dinners to their struggling colleagues. They’re also donating their time to make masks and other essential items for communities in need.

Unite Here, a union representing hospitality workers, estimates that 42,000 of its members in the airport industry are currently out of work. Most of those lost jobs are in airport concessions and airline catering, where wages range from $9 to $16 an hour.

That’s just Unite Here members. The Airport Restaurant and Retail Association (ARRA) estimates 120,000 to 125,000 airport employees are currently out of work. 

Some of those workers may eventually get called back. But for now, their incomes are disrupted, and many could use some help.

Food pantries to the rescue

As a thank-you for the support they received while working without paychecks during the 2018/2019 partial government shutdown, TSA officers at Denver International Airport on April 30 hosted a food pantry in support of airport and air carrier colleagues working with reduced hours or partial paychecks.

“Our team rallied to collect thousands of non-perishable items for the pantry,” said Larry Nau, TSA Federal Security Director for Colorado, “133 airport employees shopped the pantry and took home items for a total of 538 family members fed.”

On April 24, Transportation Security Administration employees at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) opened a free food and toiletries pantry to assist airport employees laid off or working with reduced hours or paychecks.

TSA officers are donating cash, products and gift cards to keep the pantry stocked with items such as cereal, evaporated milk, soup, pasta, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, feminine products, diapers and deodorant.

And in early April, TSA employees at Dulles International Airport (IAD) opened a free pantry for affected airport community members that is stocked with everything from donated dried and canned goods and toiletries to toys for employees who have kids at home.

Elsewhere, TSA officers have also set up a food pantry at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

Feeding colleagues in need

Twice in early April, TSA officers at Rhode Island’s T.F. Green Airport (PVD) chipped in to buy and deliver pizza dinners for fellow airport workers, including airline employees, wheelchair attendants and housekeeping staff.

“Providence is a small airport and the employees who work here are like family,” Christopher Primiano, TSA stakeholder liaison at PVD Airport, told CNBC, “We know this could go on for some time so we’re looking into what else we can do, from donations and food drives to bake sales. We want to help and give back as much as we can.”

On April 10, TSA employees at PDX bought pre-made lunches for around 300 airport employees. They did it again on April 21, partnering with local employees from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to donate lunch and supplies to an equal number of airport workers.  

As part of its “TSA Gives Back” program, early last month TSA officers at Green Bay-Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB) in Wisconsin chipped in to buy and deliver pizza, dessert and balloons to airline and car rental employees at the airport who are experiencing shrinking paychecks.

And, at McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Knoxville, Tennessee, TSOs are collecting donations and arranged for Second Harvest, the community food bank, to supply food boxes to about 300 airport employees.  

TSA officers offer other assistance

TSA employees are screening record low numbers of passengers and crew members at airports around the country, so at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) TSA officers are finding a creative and helpful way to use their break time and downtime between screening duties.  

Following instructions from an online video, TSA officers at EWR made 200 face masks out of 100 pairs of brand-new socks purchased with funds donated by TSA employees. Each sock-mask was placed in a separate plastic zippered bag along with an instruction card and all 200 masks were delivered to two area homeless shelters.

TSOs at Newark Liberty Airport have also used their downtime at the checkpoints to make home-made get-well cards and write notes of support for health care workers and COVID-19 patients in isolation at a nearby medical center.

Payback: TSA workers set up food banks, by meals for airport employees

Updating this story as new examples arrive.

During the partial shutdown of the federal government in 2019, many TSA employees continued to show up for work despite missing paychecks.

To help them out, airport employees, airlines and airport concessionaires around the country joined with social service agencies and the local community to stock pantries with food and goods.

Now at some airports, TSA workers are returning the favor by setting up food pantries and special meals for airport employees who have had hours cut or who have been put out of work because there are so few passengers in airports.

Here’s what’s happening at Portland International Airport (PDX).

TSA employees at Dulles International Airport (IAD) have set up a food pantry for airport workers.

And at T.F. Green International Airport (PVD) in Rhode Island, TSA officers chipped in and bought pizza dinners – twice so far – for their fellow airport workers, including wheelchair attendants and airline employees.

Courtesy TSA

We’ll update this list of good-deeds as we hear of my examples.

How sad it is out there in the world of travel?

You know that the current health crisis has caused people to cancel trips and airlines to temporarily slash flight schedules to the bone.

Here are few other measurements that underscore how bad it is right now.

TSA screening numbers hit record low

On Tuesday, April 7, the Transportation Security Administration screened just 97,310 passengers and flight crew members at all airports across the country.

That’s a record low for TSA and down 95% from the 2,091,056 passengers screened at airports a year ago on the same weekday.

TSA screening officers also continue to test positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, April 8, TSA reported that in the previous 14 days, 43 screening officers and 7 non-screening officers who’d had limited interaction with travelers tested positive for COVID-19.

TSA is updating that list daily. The agency is also posting the airport, last day worked, checkpoint location and shift times for each TSA officer who tests positive. So you can check to see if you may have been exposed.

Hotel occupancy rates way down

Hotels around the country are experiencing shocking year-over-year declines, according to data from STR.

Comparing the week of March 29 through April 4, 2020 with the same time period last year:

Occupancy across the country is down 68.5%, to 21.6% and average daily rates (ADR) are down 41.5% to $76.51.

When you look at the Top 25, the numbers are worse:

The Top 25 markets were down over 74 %, to 19.4%, with the Oahu, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and Seattle markets getting hammered the worst.

In some cities, hotels are renting rooms to local governments to house health care workers, first responders, military personnel, people who have been ordered to quarantine, infected patients and homeless people at risk from the virus.

Travel Tidbits from an airport near you

SFO Airport consolidates international flights to a single concourse

So many international flights have been temporarily canceled that some airports are closing down parts of concourses and terminals.

Courtesy SFO Airport

One example: San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Because the schedule for international flights from SFO will be reduced by 52% by April 1, the airport will temporarily close one part of the International Terminal.

On April 1, and through at least through the end of May, SFO will close Boarding Area A (Gates A1 to A15) in the International Terminal and consolidate all international flight departures to Boarding Area G, which houses Gates G1-G14.

The SFO Medical Clinic (in the Int’l Terminal Main Hall, by the A Gates); the Grand Hyatt at SFO and the Int’l Parking Garage A will still be open, but this will allow SFO to close a security checkpoint and consolidate Custom & Border Protection staff.

Consolidation is going on at other airports as well. So if you are traveling, be sure to check the airport and airline websites.

TSA’s COVID-19 Count Keeps Increasing

Over the weekend, TSA updated its map and its list showing which states and which airports have TSA screening officers who have tested positive for COVID-19.

On Saturday, March 28, TSA reported that over the past two weeks 55 TSA screening officers have tested positive for COVID-19.

TSA says 19 others who had “relatively limited interaction with the traveling public” tested positive as well.

We hope those officers recover quickly, of course. But if you’ve traveled through an airport in one of the blue states on the map during the past few weeks, be sure to check this list to see which airports are affected.

The list includes the last date the officers worked, the checkpoints they were stationed at and their shift hours.

If you think you may have passed through the checkpoints where these officers were stationed, please be sure to check with your doctor about what steps to take next.

TSA maps its COVID-19 cases

Airports are getting quieter and quieter, but some people are still flying.

So Transportation Security Administration officers are among the workers who must still show up for work.

Unfortunately, it turns out TSA workers aren’t immune to COVID-19 and there are have been some TSA officers who have tested positive for the virus. So it’s possible some passengers may have been exposed to the virus by these officers at some airports.

But which airports?

TSA has put together a map and is keeping a list.

Here’s what it looked like on March 23, 2020.

As of March 23, TSA said 25 screening officers had tested positive for COVID-19. An additional five non-screening employees who TSA says “have relatively limited interaction with the traveling public,” have tested positive for the virus as well.

Here’s the list of where TSA officers tested positive for the virus:

  • Newark-Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CVG)
  • Cyril E. King International Airport (STT; St. Thomas, VI)
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • Norman Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood Int’l Airport (FLL)
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

TSA says it continues to work with the CDC and state and local health departments to monitor local situations.

In the meantime, passengers will find that at some airports TSA has closed some checkpoints and is staffing others with reduced hours.