SALT LAKE CITY — With the heat of the summer comes the busiest travel season, as scores of individuals and families are expected to make their way through the state's largest airport over the new four weeks.
The Transportation Security Administration Monday announced the beginning of the peak summer travel period at Salt Lake City International Airport. TSA is projecting that more than 851,000 people will be screened at security checkpoints between now and Aug. 15 — an average of 26,600 per day.
"We are entering the travel season," said Mark Lewis, federal security director at Salt Lake City International Airport. "People ought to know that it's going to be busy every day."
He said travelers should know that they won't be able to show up last-minute and expect to make their flight, he said.
Last summer, 2.66 million people were screened between the Friday before Memorial Day and the Tuesday after Labor Day, a news release stated, ranking Salt Lake City at No. 29 of 427 airports nationwide. Officials anticipate even higher volume during this summer's peak period.
“TSA has been planning for this surge in summer travel, working closely with our airport and airline partners. We are fully staffed and prepared,” Lewis said. “We are committed to ensuring that our security operations are carried out efficiently and effectively.”
Nationally, analysts are forecasting a 4% increase in the number of travelers screened between Memorial Day and Labor Day compared to the same period last year.
The busiest times at security checkpoints are expected to be 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and sometimes late at night after 10 p.m., Lewis added. Thursdays and Fridays, Sundays and Mondays, along with Saturday mornings, are particularly busy, with peak traveler volume occurring in the early morning hours till noon, the release stated.
New this year, the airport has installed a first-of-its-kind locally queue management system to help travelers know the time it will take to pass through the security screening checkpoints. The new system employs cameras and Bluetooth technology to track wait times — in real time — that are being posted to monitors throughout the airport as well as at slcairport.com, explained Nancy Volmer, airport director of Communication and Marketing.
The system is equipped with five 49-inch monitors that are located at the entrance to the security checkpoints in terminals 1 and 2, she said. The technology is designed to detect and track passengers anonymously as they enter security screening and move through the line to exit the security checkpoint.
Volmer said the new technology should help travelers and also increase the accuracy of passenger movement and wait-time data for the airport and TSA as they manage peak screening periods. The airport has been experiencing record traveler volume with 64 consecutive months of passenger growth, she said.
"People are traveling. That's the good news," she said. "But this airport was built for 10 million passengers and we saw 26 million passengers last year in 2018. So there's a lot of congestion."
To alleviate the congestion, the facility is in the midst of phase one of a $3.6 billion airport redevelopment scheduled for completion in fall 2020 that will include a central terminal, the west end of two concourses and a parking garage. Phase two is scheduled to be finished in late 2024.
In the meantime, Volmer advised passengers flying domestically should arrive two hours prior to the boarding time for their flight and three hours beforehand for travelers taking international flights.
“We are continually looking at ways to provide a better experience for our passengers,” said Bill Wyatt, executive director for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. “Providing a queue management system will not only help travelers plan their time before coming to the airport but also alleviate anxiety by knowing they will make it to their gate on time.”
During a news conference, TSA officials reminded local residents that starting Oct. 1, 2020, travelers will be required to have a REAL ID-compliant form of identification to board commercial flights in Utah.
In 2005, Congress passed The REAL ID Act — a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission that established enhanced security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards, explained TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers. The law prohibited federal agencies, including the TSA, from accepting state-issued driver's licenses or ID cards that do not meet stated minimum requirements, she said.
The REAL ID program is intended to improve the reliability and accuracy of driver's licenses and state-issued identification cards while making it harder to counterfeit and use for fraudulent purposes, she said.
For individuals whose license or identification card expires before Oct. 1, 2020, they will receive a new license or identification card with the Real ID indicator through the standard renewal process, Dankers said. For those whose license or ID card expires after Oct. 1, 2020, they will receive a complimentary replacement with the Real ID indicator in the mail with the same expiration date as their current license or identification card, she added.
To determine if a license or identification card is REAL ID-compliant, individuals should look for a small star inside a gold circle with an outline of the state of Utah with the words, “UT USA” in the upper right-hand corner, a news release stated. Dankers encouraged individuals to look into getting their driver's license or state identification card in compliance by next year's deadline — sooner rather than later.
"You will need a REAL ID-compliant form of identification in order to travel past a security checkpoint on Oct. 1, 2020," she said.