Austin Airport Melted Down Today And Warned They Were Close To Running Out Of Fuel

Austin airport is incredibly busy. Before the pandemic the main terminal expanded with 37% more gates. This summer the airport has 40% more seats scheduled than they did pre-pandemic.

This morning there were no rideshares to the airport. They were already heading to the airport. It took me 20 minutes to find one, and that car was coming from about 18 miles away. When we finally arrived at 6 a.m. I sent the driver down to departures because the line of cars was at a dead stop trying to enter the airport at the upper level for departures.

Here’s what it looked like – and backups were everywhere, reportedly people were abandoning rental cars and walking to the terminal in order to make their flights.

TSA security lines were stretching throughout the airport. Even PreCheck lines were wrapped outside the airport. I was running late even with CLEAR and barely made my flight.

There was a PGA tournament on Sunday, and NASCAR as well, adding to the usual early morning traffic. Of course that’s no bigger than other times like the end of South By Southwest or UT Austin Spring Break. The airport isn’t big enough for the city, but it’s not just a question of size. The configuration of the airport is the biggest problem – once you made it through security, the airport was actually fairly quiet airside.

On top of it all, Austin’s airport declared a fuel shortage and told airlines to bring planes in with extra fuel in their tanks, or tanker fuel themselves.

A planned jet fuel tank farm expansion project is stalled by local politics. The expansion had been viewed as a done deal but the issue of whether and how to move forward has been re-opened. What’s striking is that the airport doesn’t have enough fuel in March and will see even more flights with more seats that burn more fuel as we get further into the year. Fuel tank farm expansion can’t come soon enough.

Ultimately the airport will expand. The current plan involves scrapping the brand new low cost South Terminal and building remote concourses.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Is this isolated? I just booked a flight out of there now for May I’m thinking of cancelling and going through another city

  2. Heard that this afternoon some flights were diverted to San Antonio and other regional airports in Central Texas. Is that your understanding as well?

  3. Gary maybe you’ll edit the intro later when you’re less frazzled – hard to make sense of it. sent the driver to departures because of a dead stop for departures? No rideshares to the airport. they were already heading to the airport?

    “This morning there were no rideshares to the airport. They were already heading to the airport. It took me 20 minutes to find one, and that car was coming from about 18 miles away. When we finally arrived at 6 a.m. I sent the driver down to departures because the line of cars was at a dead stop trying to enter the airport at the upper level for departures.”

  4. I sure hope they use a minority/woman/veteran/felon/homeless/lgbtqia++lmnop owned business to construct that new fuel farm!

  5. The NPR article Gary links to explains the rental car issue

    “According to airport staff, it all started when one rental car stalled on the drop-off curb, stopping the return of vehicles. Staff told customers they could go catch their flights if they just left the keys in the car. That caused a chain reaction as more people facing the possibility of a missed flight saw others leaving their rental vehicles.

    “People were honking their horns,” Gluck said. “Nobody could move their cars, so I just left my car with everybody else and was just like, ‘I just hope they check it in eventually.'”

    Gluck said he barely made his flight back home to Denver. When he touched down, he got an email saying his vehicle had been returned.”

  6. Seems like maybe traffic is suddenly exploding everywhere and airports aren’t ready for it. I flew out of Burbank yesterday and while not as bad, there was a ridiculously long line of cars lined up just trying to get into the airport (which I’ve never seen before). I actually asked my Uber driver to drop me off on the street across from the airport entrance and walked the rest of the way with my luggage.

  7. if your airport can’t support all the traffic then perhaps reduce the amount of traffic. it isn’t as if they don’t know how many planes and passengers are.scheduled for a given day.

  8. All that big talk and bravado from American Airlines about expanding in AUS, and the infrastructure cannot handle the traffic. Ridiculous.

  9. I flew into SAT yesterday from LGA via IAH with United… San Antonio was pretty bad as well… I waited almost 45 minutes for my luggage and another 45 minutes for my Lyft. And the baggage claim area was a zoo 🙁

    When I requested the Lyft, I paid more for an 8 minute pickup… It turned into a 20, 30… I kept getting the dreaded massaged “we found you a new driver”

    Horrible… At least my driver was super friendly.

  10. I believe Gary meant he sent the car to arrivals. Definitely poor planning for the traffic coming to this airport or the people within it. It’s not the worst I ever saw in the U.S., that was Newark, where everyone arriving from overseas had to squeeze through a tiny corridor with a tight turn–that was years ago and perhaps has been fixed. One would think architects would be told to overbuild for future traffic, but clearly they don’t always get the word, or figure out the best flows for people in the real world. Maybe this can be used as an example of how not to do things.

  11. I certainly hope none of those renters abandoning vehicles curbside were renting from Hertz, lest they have warrants awaiting them upon landing!

  12. PGA, Nascar and spring break is killing airports. Plus, it was a Mon morning. I picked up my son from PIT this morning. They waited forever for luggage. His partner is tall and had to check a bag. They said FLL T4 was out the door for TSA and to check his bag. They said they weren’t making pax remove shoes just to expedite the line. Comparative, I flew busy days in and out of MIA in Jan and Feb. January was pretty chill, Feb was insane. Thankfully Turkish Air lounge wasn’t full. I sent the info to a fuel friend. Get that contract lol

  13. I miss the good ol Covid flying days way back in 2020 when airports were empty and a crowded plane was 1/3 full. Yes, I and everyone else were unvaccinated. But wearing a N95 mask and no one sitting in your row or the row behind you was incredibly relaxing and safe (never had even a sniffle throughout 2020 and 2021). Austin today is simply a harbinger of what it means for America this summer when way to much newly printed cash chases a crumbling airline industry that won’t get close to its 2019 loads

  14. I’m sure Hertz is all excited. Think of the police reports they can file against customers who left their cars on the side of the road at AUS.

  15. Stuart! I was waiting for a Hertz reference! Not exactly a rental car drop off area.
    Does anyone know what will happen (if anything?) to people that did that?

  16. Fly in and out of San Antonio instead. It’s what we always do when we head to SXSW and the F1 Race. So much faster, cheaper and easier.

  17. Dougie – I am not sure about “won’t get close to its 2019 loads.” According to TSA passenger volume is running about 92% of 2019 levels now. I would guess from mid May through the September, volumes will approach 100% or more of 2019 levels. You can’t have it both ways – there can’t be tons of new people with new money trying to book tickets and have “demand” and “loads” “depressed” at the same time, it doesn’t make sense

  18. At one time there was serious talk of a joint SAT/AUS International Airport but San Antonio “leaders” scuttled the plan in favor of keeping convenient and close in SAT.

  19. Austin wanted the sweet deal to get Bergstrom AFB when congress was closing all those bases 20 plus years ago, and they needed to get out of the small dump of Robert Mueller Minicipal Airport that the city had long ago out grown. So ABIA was the answer, and SAT wanted to stay close in for the convention/tourist business. San Antonio is the larger city, but the airport is too small for the larger metro area. Now ABIA is expending rapidly, and SAT not so much. Even with the new terminals SAT is not keeping up with its dramatic growth. IMO.

  20. @Alan:
    “another Biden failure” — that is funny! Yes, there are probably people who are that simpleminded that they just blame the President even for stuff like this.

    Reminds of that the quote from the movie Tammy — “4 dollars a galleon? Thanks Obamacare!”

  21. Call Cancun and get Ted back to fix the issue. Oh never mind, he is reading children’s books and making poster boards.

  22. Can’t they use battery power and wind farms. Fossil fuels are so dirty and so yesterday.

  23. @Daryl Higgins-San Antonio has much better leadership now but the city’s options for airport growth are limited because of the shortsightedness of prior officials. SAT is hemmed in by the city and a new airport would have to be built so far out that it would almost be at…Austin.

  24. Perhaps this explains why some flights I have WAS-AUS in the next couple of months have gone up so much in price (I was looking to change some dates and decided not to because of the price – and I mean by $300-$1000). Maybe post-COVID, people are not tied to their offices and are traveling more.

    Incidentally, I have often been struck by how short the precheck line is in AUS compared to the regular line. So if it was out the door, that is something.

    I would not hold my breath waiting for Austin to fix any problems with Bergstrom. That is not what Austin does. In the old Austin, of course, if something like this happened, you would just chill out. Maybe the big spirit in the sky is saying it’s not a good day for you to fly, man.

  25. This rental car scenario happened to me earlier this year on Monday morning after the Ryder Cup at Milwaukee airport. There was such a mass number of dropoffs they couldn’t handle it. I left my car at the side of the road with keys inside and crossed my fingers. All worked out in the end.

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