Increase expected in summer air travel

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Passengers wait in a concourse at Glacier Park International Airport on Wednesday, Oct. 17. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

Glacier Park International Airport officials are ramping up for what is expected to be its busiest season yet.

An average increase of 9% in the number of travelers departing Montana’s four largest airports between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend is anticipated for 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration. The four most trafficked airports in the state are in Bozeman, Missoula, Billings and Glacier Park International.

Glacier Park International expects to screen an average of 16,000 departing passengers a week during the coming summer months — a year-over-year increase of about 12 percent. That figure puts the airport only slightly behind Missoula projections, which estimate 16,800 passengers will depart every week during the same time-frame, which is a year-to-year bump of about 4 percent.

According to a TSA press release, TSA will screen approximately 2.5 million travelers a day nationally. At peak times in the summer, that may increase to 2.7 million.

At Glacier Park International specifically, Glacier National Park is one of the biggest attractions. The demand eventually will lead to larger planes touching down on the tarmac and more frequently, often bringing with them completely sold-out flights. When tourist counts increase, TSA security wait times can also increase from about 40 minutes to more than two hours.

The busiest day for travel in Montana during summer is Saturday, which is typically one of the least-traveled days at most other airports in the nation, according to TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers. As for travel times, the busiest blocks are projected to be between 4 and 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. During these slots, officials suggest showing up two hours prior to your flight.

The increase in air traffic inevitably leads to an increase in surrendered prohibited items, Dankers said. Officials suggest fully unpacking a bag while at home before repacking it once more to avoid unintended material overlap from previous trips.

Also, as traveler counts have increased over the years, airport security measures have become more sophisticated. The most recent enhancement that should be on Montana travelers’ radar is a soon-to-be-required form of identification that is compliant with REAL ID, or one that meets federal regulations and establishes minimum security standards. Beginning in October 2020, a REAL ID-compliant form of identification will be required to board a commercial flight, according to TSA.

The new licenses, which the Montana Motor Vehicle Division began issuing in January 2019, have a small star in a gold circle in the upper-right hand corner of the identification card.

For more information regarding REAL ID requirements, go to mtrealid.gov or for more information on what items are and are not allowed in carry on or checked luggage when flying, go to TSA.gov.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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