June 29, 2022

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WEBSITE NEWS UPDATE

Austin airport spokesperson explains chaotic Monday for Texas passengers

4 min read

The morning of Monday, March 28 was a swirling nightmare of congestion at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Passengers complained of security lines stretching outside the Barbara Jordan Terminal. Folks heading home from F1 or Dell Match Play or a frolic in the Austin sun abandoned rental cars by the side of the road and hoofed it toward security. And that was before the airport issued a fuel shortage alert.

And it doesn’t even crack the top-10 busiest days in ABIA history. With 28,676 passengers served — 26,000-plus is what the airport considers its threshold for “busy” — it’s not even in the top-five busiest days in March 2022. And airport staff are still trying to figure out exactly how the airport became a clustered mess, causing missed flights and irate passengers.

“It’s serious anytime we see that long of a delay and that kind of impact to operation, but it is a little atypical,”ABIA acting public information officer and marketing manager Sam Haynes says.

The airport noted that 8,252 passengers were checked in before 8 a.m. that morning, but that number is lower than the almost 9,000 checked in the previous morning. Haynes says that the chaos may have began when a rental vehicle stalled out on the curbside. The rental car staff then told the customer to leave the keys in the car to make their flight.

“And then other passengers and customers saw that and followed suit,” Haynes says. “It led to this domino effect of all of these abandoned rental cars out on the roadway with no driver to remove them from the roadway to to clear up traffic.”

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Austin travelers met with long lines as city hosts several weekend events

Austin travelers met with long lines as city hosts several weekend events

Courtesy, Joey Dillon

It took almost two and a half hours to clear the roadway, after which ABIA had another mess on its hands: a fuel-shortage alert. ABIA keeps less than three days’ worth of fuel in reserve, about half the amount kept by airports of similar size. When the reserves dip below one day, they issue the alert. Haynes says that when ABIA was built in 1999, it was up to industry standard. The airport served 11 million passengers that year. It expects to see 20 million in 2022.

Haynes says that the fuel-shortage alert, which stretched into Wednesday, didn’t impact any scheduled flights in the way of cancellations or delays.


“However, one of the last fuel shortage alerts that was issued was back in October, and three commercial flights did have to divert to fuel up before arriving in Austin.” she says. “It’s possible as we experience the strong demand for air travel, with all these increased flights and new flights, that could happen. Passengers could experience diversions.”

There is a plan to expand fuel storage with the installation of two new 150-million-gallon tanks at an adjacent facility. The plan was approved by City Council in 2018, but its location has faced opposition. City Council plans to vote on possible alternate locations on April 7. Still, Haynes says the expanded fuel storage, set for construction this spring, will take two years to build. 

In addition to massive growth in Austin, its location means it serves as a diversion location for the other Texas metropolises, taking in flights from San Antonio, Houston, and Southwest’s hub at Love Field and American’s hub at DFW International. It is the number one diversion airport in the country. 

Future improvements to ABIA as part of the Airport Expansion & Development Program.

Future improvements to ABIA as part of the Airport Expansion & Development Program.

City of Austin

Haynes says that in addition to adding to fuel reserves capacity, the airport plans to address increasing demands by expanding the midfield concourse to add 10-20 gates and building out a taxiway to support a third runway. The latter improvement is at least a decade away. In the meantime, ABIA is juggling current issues with capacity and the need to address an ever-expanding city, one that expects to see service 31 million travelers by 2037. 

“Right now, however, we are looking at what we can do immediately,” Haynes says. “We’re working to address the problems and challenges that we see today. But how are the decisions we make today going to impact these long-term development plans that we know we will need to bring to this airport to serve far more than just 20 million or 30 million passengers? It’s a balancing act.”

In the meantime, ABIA has some tips for passengers. Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to be the best days to travel if you’re hoping to avoid the type of logjam that occurred this week.

“We’re really seeing the high volume of travel on Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays,” Haynes says. “And then if you are traveling out on one of those peak days, the hours leading up to 8 a.m. are definitely the busiest.”

ABIA is asking passengers to arrive two hours early if they are flying out prior to 8 a.m., but only if you’re not checking a bag or returning a car. It seems flights out of Austin with any extra time required before heading to security may require even more lead time for the foreseeable future.

Correction: The post reflects changes made to a sentence about the Airport Expansion and Development Program, which previously stated that the additional fuel tanks were part of Phase I and that upgrades were being made at ABIA to support 18 million passengers by 2024 as part of that phase. According to an airport spokesperson, that document is out-of-date and there is currently no passenger projection for the end of Phase I. It also amends the number of gates being added to the midfield concourse from 12 to 10-20.



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