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What’s happening at Austin’s airport? Long lines, abandoned rental cars

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Scott L Hall, USA TODAY

Abandoned rental cars snaked down the road outside Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Monday morning and passengers waited in a security line that reached outside the terminal and onto the sidewalk.

Some travelers waited in security lines for hours, missed flights or even had to make alternate travel arrangements over the weekend as the airport was unable to handle unusually high passenger traffic generated in part by several high-profile sporting events.

Airport officials on Monday even took the step of issuing a fuel shortage alert due to a lack of available fuel supply — a measure an airport spokesperson said is becoming more common as the airport becomes busier with more flights scheduled. A fuel shortage alert calls for flights to arrive with more fuel than normal in case there is no fuel available for them at ABIA.

More: 6 things you should know about Austin’s airport, which is getting busier these days

Airport officials said in a written statement that ABIA regularly sees high volumes of passengers, especially Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays before 8 am Staffers with the federal Transportation Security Administration moved almost 9,000 passengers on Sunday, March 27 before 8 am, and about 8,250 on Monday before that time.

“These volumes reflect thousands of Austin visitors traveling home after attending events”, including the Texas Relays, Dell Technologies Match Play Championships and a NASCAR race at the Circuit of the Americas, the statement read. “In response to the strong demand for air travel , (the airport) continues to expedite terminal improvements through the Airport Expansion and Development Program and through working alongside our partners, like the TSA, to fill staff vacancies.”

Sandy Musa, who lives about 20 minutes from the airport, said she didn’t even bother with the security line Monday morning when she saw it was outside the building. She arrived at 6 am, about 90 minutes before her flight to Las Vegas for a work conference. When she spoke to a member of the security staff, she said she was told there was no way she was going to make her flight.

“The line was wrapped from one end of the airport to the other,” she said. “It’s not like it was just a few people hanging out by the automatic doors. You had to go to one end of the other or the other of the airport to be in one of those lines. I would never have made it even if I got there two hours before.”

More: Austin gets another nonstop flight to Europe, this time to Amsterdam

Musa said she was frustrated the airport didn’t communicate to passengers on social media in advance how early they should plan to arrive to make flights given the unusual volume of people. She said she is still deciding if she wants to try and catch another flight later today, or give up on the trip altogether.

Patricia Mancha, a spokesperson for TSA in southwestern states including Texas, said the Austin airport had 15,000 more visitors a day this weekend compared to the normal course of travel. She cited the sporting events in the area, as well as airlines adding flights to their schedules out of Austin, as factors.

Mancha said TSA in Austin prepared for the weekend by bringing in additional staff and approving overtime hours. Mancha also said Austin isn’t alone in increased travel volume. Nationwide 2.3 million people passed through an airport security checkpoint on Sunday, compared to 1.57 million on that day last year.

The Ausitn airport also had a line of abandoned rental cars to contend with Monday morning, which caused some people additional delays.

“The rental car return line was due to a bit of an irregular situation. What happened was one rental car stalled out at the drop-off curb,” airport officials said in a statement. “Rental car staff instructed the customers to go ahead and leave the vehicle with the keys in it. This caused other passengers with rental cars to follow suit, and leave their rental cars alongside the curb. Once airport staff was alerted to this, we got in touch with the rental car company to request additional staff be dispatched… to move the vehicles from the curb.”

Kelly Nagel, who was in Austin this weekend for a wedding, said she was among those who left her rental cars with the keys on the front seat to make her flight after sitting in line to return the vehicle for about 30 minutes Monday morning.

More: Austin airport gets new international route, this time to Vancouver

Nagel said she was able to bypass much of the security line because she has TSA pre-check, and was able to make her flight home to Pennsylvania. She said she got a call during her layover from the rental car company that the vehicle had been safely returned.

Mancha said the best way people can help make security move more quickly is by arriving with plenty of time to save and not packing prohibited items in their carry-on luggage. People should plan to arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international one, she said.

“When people bring prohibited items to the checkpoint, they slow down the line,” she said. “TSA, the airport, the airlines, we’re all working together to get folks to their final destination. So it’s really important for people to pack their patience. Our folks are really trying to help you get through.”

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