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Austin airport sees biggest day ever: 43,000 outbound travelers after F1

 Austin-Bergstrom International Airport recorded 43,177 departing passengers Monday, breaking the previous all-time high by almost 8,000 travelers.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport recorded 43,177 departing passengers Monday, breaking the previous all-time high by almost 8,000 travelers.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport had its busiest day ever Monday as crowds left town after the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas.

The one-day total of 43,177 departing passengers broke the previous record — set just a week earlier after the Austin City Limits Music Festival — by almost 8,000 travelers.

The influx of passengers for Monday's 289 outbound flights put an unprecedented strain on an airport whose infrastructure hasn't grown quickly enough to catch up to a rapid surge in air travel since the pandemic.

ABIA was constructed to handle 15 million passengers a year — far fewer than the 21 million travelers officials expect this year. City officials have started a $4 billion expansion including a new concourse that would boost the airport's capacity significantly by 2027.

Bracing for the post-F1 rush, ABIA requested additional TSA agents and recruited airport office workers to show up at 5 a.m. and help manage the crowds.

"The TSA lines were never long," airport spokesperson Elizabeth Ferrer said. "We had staff stationed at key points telling people where to go for shorter lines at security."

A TSA spokesperson said the longest wait to get to security screening Monday was 24 minutes. The agency said it strives to keep lines under 30 minutes.

Twitter complaints about ABIA — a reliable source of vitriol when things are going badly at the airport — were surprisingly minimal.

Another factor that may have helped: More passengers have been signing up for TSA PreCheck and the biometric identification service CLEAR — two paid offerings that speed up the security-screening process.

On Monday, CLEAR had its busiest day ever at ABIA, breaking its previous record number of people screened by 17%. Compared to F1 weekend in 2021, CLEAR screenings grew by 55%, a company spokesperson said.

Airlines were told to fly in their planes with extra fuel in case the airport's undercapacity storage tanks ran out — a lesson learned after ABIA's jet fuel supplies became critically low last year following the Grand Prix.

"This entire year has been a learning experience," Ferrer said. "We don't expect it slow down any more."

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Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Nathan Bernier a KUT reporter and the local host during All Things Considered and Marketplace. He grew up in the small mountain town of Nelson, BC, Canada, and worked at commercial news radio stations in Ottawa, Montreal and Boston before starting at KUT in 2008.