Updated: October 21, 2020 09:20 AM
Created: October 20, 2020 09:18 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — TSA just hit a new milestone this weekend. Sunday the agency announced it screened a million passengers nationwide. It’s the first time they’ve hit that number since the pandemic started in March.
So what does that tell us? People are traveling. That looks very different in New Mexico — especially as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ramps travel restrictions back up.
There has been a slow but steady increase in people departing from the Sunport, according to a Sunport spokesperson. But they’re still down around 70% from this time last year.
As ridership increases, TSA officials said they are implementing more measures to reduce those points of contact. It’s the most noticeable sign that there are fewer people are at the Albuquerque Sunport — on escalators, waiting in lines, checking in for flights, and getting screened TSA checkpoints.
“We’ve been seeing this very gradual increase over time since March,” said Stephanie Kitts, spokesperson for the Albuquerque Sunport.
Kitts said at the start of the pandemic they were seeing as few as 200 people in the Sunport for the entire day. On Sunday, they had nearly 3,000 people depart the airport.
While the number is up, it’s still a big decrease compared to that same day last year when they saw nearly 9,500 passengers.
“We've had lots of conversations about that, and travel is still in that top category, right? Dining, shopping family gatherings, travel, these are the areas that we know create the highest risk for spread,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham during a news briefing Tuesday.
Gov. Lujan Grisham announced new travel requirements as of Friday. Anyone traveling from a hotspot is required to quarantine for two weeks.
The TSA has also been the subject of recent rapid responses. The TSA reports 6 screening officers and one non-screening employee at the Sunport have tested positive for the virus since March.
TSA officials said when they learn of a positive case they follow CDC guidelines. The TSA also updates its list of staff members at each airport who have tested positive.
“Keep in mind, a couple of things, most people do not have extended contact with a TSA officer. They are most times not going to even be within that six-foot distance for an extended period of time,” said Lorie Dankers, a spokeswoman for the TSA.
Dankers said they are doing even more in the way of COVID-19 precautions.
During screening at the Sunport Dankers said passengers will be instructed to scan their own boarding pass, and new x-ray technology is decreasing the need for more bag searches.
While Sunport staff won’t be enforcing the governor’s quarantine orders, they will try to help educate passengers coming in.
“We’ve essentially partnered with the state,” said Kitts. “They will bring us updated information every week when they change the low risk and high risk, those sort of things.”
Restaurants and stores inside the airport are still operating in a more limited fashion. Even with a slight uptick in passengers, airport revenue is still hurting. During the past six months they’ve seen a decrease in frequency of flights and destinations.
“Coming up with ways to generate income that we maybe hadn’t thought of before,” said Kitts. “We’ve also done things like reduce the escalators and elevators, we’ve closed some bathrooms. That sounds kind of silly but in the grand scheme it helps us save money on utilities.”
As COVID cases rise in our state it’s unclear what the holiday season will look like.
TSA agents are getting trained on new technology that would allow travelers to scan their own licenses — removing that interaction. That could be up and running by the holidays.
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