An influx of travelers and a rental car fiasco led to one of the worst traffic jams at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Monday as Dell Match Play, NASCAR and Texas Relays came to a close. Some of the 8,252 travelers that passed through the airport before 8 a.m. turned to social media to share their frustrations over the chaos.
Columbus, Ohio, local Joey Dillon shared his story with Austonia after visiting Austin for the first time to play in a tennis tournament. While in town, Dillon said he enjoyed some great food, sights and “beyond perfect” weather.
When the time came to return home, Dillon arrived at the airport two hours early for his 9:10 a.m. flight and got stuck in a line stretching well down the street. Dillon said he waited 15 minutes without moving before he got worried.
My luck that my first time leaving the Austin airport was an apocalypse between Monday morning and both a NASCAR race and a PGA event this weekend.
We had to leave our rentals on the side of the road and security was easily at LEAST 2 hours hours deep. Thank you, pre-check 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/7RZuNfCqxE
— Joey Dillon (@joeydillon) March 28, 2022
“I asked the guy in the car next to me what was going on... He said that people were told to leave their cars and to start walking,” Dillon said, explaining that an airport worker came to ask his rental company, wrote it on the windshield and told him to walk back. “I just had to trust that everything would be taken care of because I couldn't afford to miss my flight.”
An airport spokesperson on Monday said that the jam started when a rental car stalled out at the drop-off curb and employees instructed them to leave it with the keys inside. Other passengers then followed suit, leaving a long line of empty cars and no way out. There were at least 1,600 more travelers than usual before 8 a.m. Monday.
Dillon said he got to TSA about an hour before his flight and seeing lines out the door was when he really got worried. Dillon said he had purchased TSA pre-check on a whim before he left for Austin, which he immediately became thankful for, and made it onto his flight on time.
“I know I was extremely lucky. Without pre-check, I wasn't getting home on time,” Dillon said. “It was definitely chaotic and you could feel some anxious energy just because their plans were unknown.”
Though the journey back was rocky, Dillon said it didn’t spoil his trip or memory of the city. He received a statement that his rental car was returned, so in the end, everything was taken care of for him.
Others trying to make their early morning flights weren't so lucky. Frustrated travelers missed their flights and had to wait in more lines to rebook.
Now a new fun rebooking line to wait in cause I obviously missed my flight. Am I in hell? pic.twitter.com/seOL01XA0B
— Nadley Doerge (@nadleydoe) March 28, 2022
As travel bounced back from pandemic lows, airport activity has been bustling: The top five busiest days in airport history are within the last two and a half years, with three of them in 2021. The airport is in the midst of updating some of its infrastructures to keep up with travel demand with its 2040 Master Plan, but changes aren't likely to come this year.
Hey @MayorAdler & @austintexasgov - this is unacceptable - this past Monday people abandoned rental cars it was so bad - we need an interim plan for @AUStinAirport before the terminal expansion https://t.co/PgvvGeSfK7
— Will Townsend (@WillTownTech) March 29, 2022
“The city or the airport should definitely get together and figure out logistics if they're going to have multiple massive events on one weekend. I think this all could've been prevented or at least we could've been made aware,” Dillon said. “It doesn't hurt my Austin experience and it's a funny travel story to tell, as well as a reason to keep my pre-check in the future.”
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