Fuel Shortages, Around-the-Building TSA Lines Made for an Austin Airport Nightmare

Long lines, abandoned rental cars, and not enough jet fuel were some of the things travelers had to deal with in Austin this weekend.

While March and April are historically busy months for airports due to spring break travel, Austin was also home to two major events over the weekend, including a NASCAR race at the Circuit of the Americas and a PGA golfing tournament. Unfortunately, travelers experienced the “keep Austin weird” thing in the worst possible way, with airport delays they’re unlikely to ever forget. 

Security lines in the thousands, abandoned rental cars, seas of people crowding what’s by all standards a small airport; surely it sounds like things couldn’t get any worse. But wait, there’s more!

According to Axios Austin, wait times skyrocketed when Transportation Security Administration screening lines grew so long they actually exited the terminal and wrapped around the building. Travelers took to Twitter with comments and photos of the chaos found inside and outside Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where never-ending lines forced the TSA to call “all hands on deck,” in order to sustain operations throughout Sunday and Monday.

Making matters even worse, a report claims that a rental car snafu triggered yet another hellish situation in the rental car return lot when a particular traveler reportedly abandoned their rental car at the entrance of the lot after it stalled. As a result, other travelers then followed suit, believing that’s what they were supposed to do with their own rentals too. This caused long lines of abandoned rentals cars that stretched around the airport, which didn’t help the already-poor traffic flow.

An airport spokesperson took to Twitter Monday afternoon, claiming that the airport was experiencing a higher number of passengers than usual, and asked travelers to arrive at least two hours ahead of their scheduled departures from now until April.

“With 282 flights scheduled for today & 1,600 + more passengers flying out before 8 a.m. than we typically see, it’s a busy day at AUS. While operations have returned to normal, we continue to ask passengers to arrive a minimum of 2 hours in advance now through early April,” read the tweet.

Given the higher-than-average volume of flights scheduled in and out of the Texas capital, the airport quickly found itself with less-than-optimum fuel reserves. By Monday afternoon, Austin-Bergstrom issued a fuel shortage alert, going as far as asking incoming flights to carry extra fuel in case they wouldn’t be able to replenish while in Austin, the report claims.

“We’re aware of fuel quantity issues at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and we are working to mitigate potential operational issues by tankering fuel on some inbound flights,” Dan Landson, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines Inc. told Bloomberg on Monday evening.

The airport did not report whether any planes were actually grounded due to the fuel shortage, nor did any airlines. However, the issue of low fuel reserves isn’t new at the Austin airport, as Bloomberg reports that the facility’s two storage tanks can only hold up to two days of fuel. In fact, the facility’s storage capacity has remained the same since its opening in 1999, putting it at a severe disadvantage with neighboring airports of similar size that can reportedly hold five to seven days’ worth of fuel.

The lack of personnel has been a major issue since the pandemic started back in 2020, with staffing shortages plaguing everything from hospitality to manufacturing industries. Of course, the transportation sector has been hit extremely hard too, and its close relationship with the tourism industry has further exacerbated its impact on consumers. All of this—and then some—was on display at the Austin International Airport this weekend, where thousands of travelers felt the combined effects of pandemic- and supply chain-related airport issues. 

By Tuesday morning it seemed the worst was over, with no major alerts and the TSA App claiming a zero- to 15-minute wait, at the time of publication.

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