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Atlanta Airport Prepares For Super Bowl Travelers As Shutdown Continues


Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson Airport is the busiest in the world based on the number of passengers who move through it every day - a number expected to rise when you throw in a little event like, oh, say, the Super Bowl. Well, Atlanta hosts the Super Bowl on February 3. City officials have, of course, been planning for months, but those plans did not factor in a partial government shutdown. John Selden is general manager of the airport. He joins me now from Atlanta in the Atlanta airport. Hi there, Mr. Selden.

JOHN SELDEN: Hi, Mary Louise. How are you?

KELLY: I'm doing all right. Thank you. Let's start here. How many passengers pass through security on a typical weekday at Hartsfield-Jackson?

SELDEN: Somewhere between 60,000 to 75,000, depending on the day of the week and business travel and holidays. But we run somewhere in that range.

KELLY: OK. So 60,000 - maybe a little bit higher. How many are you bracing for for the Monday after the Super Bowl?

SELDEN: So we're looking at somewhere between 105 to up to 115,000 people going through our checkpoint on that Monday morning.

KELLY: So close to double what you would have on a typical weekday.

SELDEN: Very close to double - our record to date, I believe, is 93,000. So the conversations and the planning before the shutdown was significant. And the TSA was going to bring additional canine to do screening and additional officers to do screening.

KELLY: How confident are you that you will have enough TSA officers who you do need to do the security screening - that they'll actually show up and be on the job that day?

SELDEN: So, Mary Louise, we are concerned. We do not expect - and I shouldn't say this - but we do not expect the full staff. There are many of these federal employees that financially have limitations of child care and paying for gas. So that situation is critical to how many can actually show up for work, pay their bills, stay in their homes and take care of their families. But we are doing all we can with our stakeholders, with our neighbors, friends to support these employees and do what we can to provide them the tools that they need to be able to come to work.

KELLY: Sure. I'm wondering though when you described bringing in additional TSA agents, who are not normally based in Atlanta, there can't be that many spare TSA agents anywhere in the country at the moment, right? Everybody's dealing with shortages.

SELDEN: Well, the TSA is doing all they can to get a requisite number, which they think they need to get here. The TSA agents will be on their government credit card. They'll be put in a hotel. Their food will be paid for. So those agents, they believe, will show up and support the operation here at Hartsfield-Jackson.

KELLY: You described passengers showing up at the airport, coming straight from the game, who were going wait for flights out on the Monday. And the Atlanta newspaper The Journal Constitution is reporting that travelers will be able to pass through security up to 24 hours before their flight in order to spread them out. The plan then being - what? - that they would spend 24 hours in the terminal?

SELDEN: That's correct.

KELLY: I mean, that sounds like a zoo - if I may (laughter).

SELDEN: It may be. And we have 1,800 volunteers that will be badged that can get through the checkpoint and help and support our travelers that will be here in the terminal for an extended period of time.

KELLY: So how closely are you following politics and the shutdown debate in Washington right now?

SELDEN: I follow it very, very, very closely. It's on in my office 24/7.

KELLY: Oh, boy. John Selden, we wish you much luck weathering Super Bowl weekend. Good luck.

SELDEN: Thank you so much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: He is general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAM DE SILVA'S "DIA SANTO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.