The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) closed 2021 demonstrating the agency’s commitment to the security of the nation’s transportation system, and the ability to drive innovation and address emerging threats.
“In many ways, 2021 was a year of resilience as the dedicated TSA workforce worked diligently to screen near pre-pandemic passenger volumes at the nation’s airports while facing three major waves of COVID-19 across the country,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “Despite the challenges, we facilitated freedom of movement for passengers and goods, and we made great progress in security innovation in close coordination with our federal partners and industry stakeholders.”
During the year, TSA recorded the following 21 highlights and accomplishments:
#1 TSA’s 20th Anniversary – In November, TSA recognized the 20th anniversary of the agency’s establishment, which occurred in 2001 when President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA).
#2 Passenger Volume – In 2021, travel volume increased to near pre-pandemic levels last seen in 2019. TSA Officers screened 585.3 million travelers in 2021, averaging about 1.6 million passengers per day. On average, 97.6% of passengers waited less than 20 minutes at airport security checkpoints, while 96.2% of passengers in TSA PreCheck® lanes waited less than 5 minutes.
#3 Commitment to the Frontline Workforce – Transportation Security Officers serve in uniform on the frontline of transportation security and represent the backbone of the agency. In June, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced new efforts to support the TSA workforce and expressed the Department’s commitment to improving their compensation. In September, TSA reached an agreement with the Merit Systems Protection Board to handle adverse action appeals and better align TSA standards with other government agencies. Additionally, in 2021, Administrator Pekoske introduced new pay and compensation initiatives. These actions are important steps to more closely match the TSA workforce rights and compensation with that of other federal agencies.
#4 Customer Experience – The TSA Contact Center answered 1.7 million calls and email messages throughout 2021 and @AskTSA responded directly to 1.5 million traveler questions, typically within 2 minutes, over social media. TSA Cares, the agency’s helpline, provided assistance to 26,056 travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, or other special conditions.
As part of TSA’s support of the Presidential Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Service, the agency made significant progress toward a live chat feature with travelers over the agency’s website. Foundational work completed in 2021 will enable the introduction of live chat in 2022.
#5 Transportation Security Officers Stopped Firearms – In early October, TSA officers prevented an all-time record number of firearms from being carried into airplane passenger cabins or the secure area of airports, topping the previous record set in 2019.
As of December 31, TSA officers stopped 5,972 firearms at checkpoints, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 firearms caught at checkpoints in the full calendar year 2019. The majority of those firearms (86%) were loaded. Firearms at TSA checkpoints represent an unnecessary risk and an expensive mistake for passengers who do not follow requirements to declare firearms in advance and properly pack them in checked baggage.
#6 Addressing Unruly Passengers – Unruly passengers impact the entire aviation industry as a safety and security risk; incidents escalated in 2021. To address this issue, TSA resumed Crew Member Self-Defense (CMSD) training in early July to equip flight crew members with the skills to defend themselves against attack. In 2021, Federal Air Marshal instructors from across the country trained almost 1,500 flight crew members. Additionally, TSA partnered with the FAA to share information on unruly passengers and rescind TSA PreCheck® eligibility for passengers who receive FAA fines for being disruptive aboard flights.
#7 Innovation – In 2021, TSA leveraged co-creation and crowdsourcing initiatives to broaden innovation and build a pipeline of new security solutions for the agency. Through the Power of the Passengers Challenge, TSA and TechConnect Ventures awarded $215,000 to 11 technology institutions for their innovative ideas. The competition resulted in 125 new concepts geared toward enhancing security throughout the transportation system, several of which are now being tested. A similar effort, called Hacking for Homeland Security, engaged Carnegie Mellon University graduate students on solving complex issues in transportation security and generated five graduate presentations, each with commercialization potential.
#8 Technology – Throughout 2021, TSA deployed 1,520 Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) units and added to its 320 Computed Tomography (CT) X-ray scanners at airport checkpoints, significantly reducing physical contact, while improving security effectiveness. The agency also awarded a $198 million contract to procure additional CT scanners. At many airports, passengers can scan their own IDs in CAT units at the travel document checker podium, which further reduces physical contact.
#9 Mobile Driver’s Licenses – In September, Apple announced a collaboration with TSA on the development of a mobile driver’s license in Apple Wallet. TSA’s efforts in 2021 laid the groundwork for mobile driver’s license applications and readers that will enable future travelers to transfer license data using their iPhones at equipped checkpoints for ID verification.
#10 Facial Recognition –TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched a new voluntary digital identity program in cooperation with Delta Air Lines at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The technology, which is available to TSA PreCheck and Delta SkyMiles® members who opt-in, compares the passenger’s live photo to a pre-staged gallery of photos previously provided to the government, such as that found on a passport.
#11 Strengthening Pipeline Cybersecurity – When a cybersecurity ransomware attack shuttered a major petroleum pipeline company in 2021, it reinforced the importance of TSA’s mission within the surface transportation sector. Following five private sector engagements and the adjudication of over 360 comments from pipeline industry stakeholders, TSA issued two security directives to help build critical infrastructure resilience against future cybersecurity threats for the most critical pipelines in the U.S.
#12 Rail and Aviation Cybersecurity – As part of Secretary Mayorkas’s Transportation Cybersecurity Sprint, TSA announced new cybersecurity requirements for higher-risk freight railroads, passenger rail, and rail transit operators to strengthen critical infrastructure and enhance resilience against cyberattacks. In separate guidance, TSA recommended that all lower-risk surface transportation owners and operators voluntarily implement the same measures and updated aviation security programs to require that airport and airline operators designate a cybersecurity coordinator and report cybersecurity incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within 24 hours.
#13 TSA PreCheck Growth – Last year, seven new airlines joined the TSA PreCheck program, and over 1.8 million individuals enrolled in the expedited screening program, bringing the total number of Known Traveler Number holders to over 11 million. The agency also reduced the cost to renew online.
#14 Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion – TSA launched a Spanish-language virtual assistant for @AskTSA in September enabling the agency to respond to Spanish-speaking travelers’ social media inquiries. During the annual Disability and Multicultural Coalition Conference, TSA honored the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Minority Humanitarian Foundation for their engagement with TSA and their commitment to providing their community members with tips and information to support a positive checkpoint screening experience. In December, TSA published its Inclusion Action Committee report, which represents a 16-month internal review and forges a path to improve diversity, equity and inclusion for TSA employees.
#15 Air Cargo – TSA published the Air Cargo Security Roadmap to provide a 5-year vision and strategic plan for modernizing, streamlining, and securing air cargo transportation operations.
#16 Unmanned Aircraft Systems – TSA selected Miami International Airport for its initial test of technologies that will detect, track, and identify drones entering restricted airspace. Drones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), pose a threat to aviation security when flown in restricted airspaces and such tests help TSA assess technological effectiveness in a live airport environment. A similar test was announced at Los Angeles International Airport.
#17 Hiring Surge – In February 2021, TSA launched a recruiting and hiring campaign to support passenger volumes projected throughout the year. TSA continues these efforts nationwide and has introduced unprecedented recruitment, readiness, and retention incentives to remain competitive in the nationwide labor market. For more information and videos about this mission-critical work, visit The Face of TSA.
#18 Strengthening Partnerships – TSA has always welcomed and actively pursued engagement and alignment with our many partners who are vital to ensuring the U.S. transportation network remains safe and secure. In 2021, TSA officials conducted over 700 meetings with industry stakeholders and coalition partners across all modes of transportation, in addition to its daily interactions on a variety of issues. These exchanges are essential to working towards mutual objectives of keeping passengers, cargo and goods secure, while also ensuring a positive travel experience. In 2021, TSA announced the addition of Surface Transportation Security Advisory Committee members with pipeline and cybersecurity experience. The agency also announced new members within its Aviation Security Advisory Committee.
#19 Federal Air Marshals – Throughout 2021, Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) deployed to assess, address and mitigate potential risks and threats to transportation and millions of travelers daily across the various transportation modes. As TSA’s primary law enforcement arm, FAMs comprise the agency’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams and provide inflight security aboard thousands of commercial aircraft to ensure the safety of passengers, flight crew members, and the aircraft. FAMs supported DHS law enforcement partners at special events and humanitarian efforts that included natural disasters and the operation to resettle Afghan refugees in U.S. communities.
#20 Working with Canines – In 2021, TSA trained and deployed more than 1,000 explosives detection canine teams at airports and mass-transit facilities. These teams supported Super Bowl LV, the 59th Presidential Inauguration, and enhanced security operations at airports nationwide. In November, TSA released its 2022 TSA Canine Calendar, featuring winners of the Cutest Canine Contest.
#21 Support for Operation Allies Welcome – Beginning in late August, the Department of Homeland Security led the Nation’s unified effort to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals who worked alongside the Nation’s Armed Forces during the last two decades. TSA deployed more than 560 employees in support of this mission to overseas transit locations in third countries and to military installations in the United States, also known as safe havens, where Afghans were provided temporary housing prior to resettlement. Other TSA employees provided dedicated support to the effort from their principal duty stations.