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Travel experts concerned federal vaccine mandate could impact holiday travelers

The federal vaccine mandate deadline falls just days before the Thanksgiving holiday, leaving travel experts concerned potential staffing shortages.

PHOENIX — The federal vaccine mandate deadline is just a few weeks away and travel experts said it might have a big impact on the busy Thanksgiving travel weekend.

TSA vaccinations last at 60%

The federal deadline for workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine is Nov. 22, just a few days before Thanksgiving.

A couple of weeks ago, TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN many of his workers are still needing their shots.

“About 60% of our workforce has been vaccinated,” Pekoske said. “That number needs to go up quite a bit higher over the next few weeks.”

A TSA spokesperson told 12 News in a statement the remaining 40% haven’t reported whether they’ve gotten the vaccine or not and added in the statement that they’re still anticipating a ‘vast majority' of their employees to get vaccinated.

“TSA personnel are in jobs where they are not readily in front of computers. Many Transportation Security Officers do not have government-issued equipment to submit required information and responses to government-issued surveys,” The spokesperson said in the statement.

AFGE TSA Local 1250, the local branch of the union for TSA workers, said they also didn’t have exact figures on how many TSA workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were vaccinated or not.

“We got misinformation, we got fear,” Jovan Petkovic, the secretary for AFGE TSA Local 1250 said.

Petkovic said while the union has been trying to help educate members, there are many in the organization who are opposed to the mandate because of vaccine misinformation and the vaccine being politicized.

“They don’t understand what it is,” Petkovic said. “So they’re, of course, afraid of it, and they’re opposing it.”

Not getting the shot can mean a TSA worker loses their job. Petkovic said there is a process a worker goes through, including time to get into compliance before action is taken against the worker.

“We are building contingency plans for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that,” Pekoske said.

Travel industry under strain

Janet Semenova with Boutique Travel Advisors said that. in her business and travels, she’s noticing more people also visiting different states and countries.

“Even as the world is opening up, and more, more people are vaccinated and feeling more comfortable and confident traveling, there's still a lot of logistical things that you have to consider when booking a trip,” Semenova said.

Noting, the travel industry is already under pressure and is not immune to staffing shortages affecting many workforces.

Earlier in October, Southwest Airlines made headlines after it canceled nearly 2,000 flights blaming the weather and what the airline called “external constraints.”

“We’re seeing airlines canceling flights regularly, changing schedules at the last minute, bumping people at the last minute,” Semenova said.

Ripple effects

Stathis Kefallonitis, an associate professor of Aviation Business and Passenger Intelligence at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott said he’s anticipating more people to travel for the holidays.

“About one in two Americans wants to travel and has plans to travel this holiday season,” Kefallonitis said. “This is about a 20% increase from 2020.”

Kefallonitis said however because more people are working from home, they may be able to leave a day or two earlier and may help ease congestion at airports.

But Kefallonitis said they could still face issues, with the combination of potential staffing shortages, delays, cancellations, and bad weather.

“We can still have problems, we can still have issues, mainly related to staffing, restrictions and unvaccinated employees and travelers. And this could still be a recipe for disaster,” Kefallonitis said.

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