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Airlines and TSA look to fill staff shortages in Billings before the holiday season

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Posted at 6:09 PM, Nov 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-03 20:09:50-04

Patience is the keyword this holiday season as airlines across the nation and in Montana work to hire more pilots and TSA agents. Billings Assistant Director of Aviation and Transit Shane Ketterling said the shortage was triggered by the pandemic.

“It’s all due to the beginning of COVID and the airlines, people not flying, so the airlines were trying to reduce the number of pilots in order to save money,” Ketterling said.

That's forcing airlines and other employers in the industry get creative in finding employees. The TSA, for example, held a hiring event Wednesday at Billings Logan International Airport Wednesday, promising extra incentives including a fast hire.

Airlines are struggling to keep up with the increased demand for travel, especially during a pandemic. Bev Durgan flies to Billings frequently and has seen some of the issues firsthand.

“I know when I came here two weeks ago that Delta had staffing shortages, and it took about an hour to get the bags,” said Durgan.

The problems are even worse when you leave Montana. Ketterling says that the larger airports are most affected.

American Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights over the past several days. A few weeks ago, it was Southwest. Airlines are still figuring out how to combat the pilot shortage.

“Some are having more problems than others, but trying to get more pilots, trying to entice them, rehires, looking at different options,” said Ketterling.

TSA is dealing with its own staffing problems. Many agents are quitting because of vaccine requirements. It’s one reason why the agency held the mass recruiting event in Billings Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re always trying to hire, I think we’re okay now, but we’re hiring in preparation for the holidays coming up, and of course next summer, the summers are always busy in Montana,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Montana Kristen Simonds.

With the holidays coming up, the airlines and TSA have been proactive in making sure travelers aren’t affected. Passengers like Durgan know that’s just part of traveling in today’s COVID world.

“If you’re expecting things to go as smoothly as they used to, it’s just not going to happen. You just have to have patience 'cause there’s really nothing you can do,” said Durgan.

If you’re traveling this holiday, TSA recommends arriving at the airport extra early to prepare for any delays or shortages that might happen.