The enthusiasm to travel this summer to all points of the compass has been tempered by dramatic images of unprecedented delays at airports throughout the country. Transportation Security Agency Chief Administrator Peter Neffenger, the man many say is responsible, is scheduled to be hauled before Congress on Wednesday, May 25 to explain his way out of what at least one congressman called a "huge failing agency."
The marathon lines in many United States airports haven't been seen at the Boise Airport, where Airport Director Rebecca Hupp doesn't take anything for granted.
"I hope what we're seeing is not the new normal," said Huff. "I think there were several things that brought to us where we are today: The inspector general's report on TSA's pass/fail rate triggered additional screening."
Hupp was referring to the summer 2015 analysis that revealed security failures at dozens of the nation's busiest airports, which cost the previous TSA administrator his job.
"Then, TSA had to deal with budget cuts," she said.
Congress recently approved $34 million to hire new TSA agents, which TSA officials say still isn't nearly enough.
"Couple all of that with a new higher demand for travel, and were talking about pre-recession levels. ... That's all contributing to the longer lines at other airports," Hupp said.
Even Boise is seeing some of its highest numbers of air travelers ever recorded, but it's something the local airport is prepared for.
"We already had capacity to handle the demand and, while passenger is travel is up, we're in a good position to be prepared for it," Hupp said. "Our airport was designed to handle more."
A recent analysis of Boise enplanements—passenger boarding data—shows March numbers were 11.5 higher than in 2015 and 17 percent higher than in 2013. In total, Boise Airport officials count nearly 3 million passengers per year, with hundreds of thousands more people walking through the doors to greet or drop off loved ones.
That number will undoubtedly go up sooner than later. On the evening of Wednesday, June 1, American Airlines flight No. 473 from Dallas/Fort Worth will touch down at the Boise Airport, inaugurating daily direct roundtrip service between Idaho and DFW International Airport in Texas, one of the nation's largest travel hubs.
"It's a very big deal," said Hupp. "When you take a map of the U.S. and look at Boise, we have nonstop service to nearly every major hub in the Midwest and across the West. American [Airlines] is one of the largest carriers in the nation, and this links us to cities across the world—and especially to Latin and South America."
Years in the making, the American service between Boise and Dallas/Fort Worth was delayed by the recession and American's bankruptcy. It subsequently merged with U.S. Airways in 2014, creating the world's biggest airline (by revenue and fleet size).
In spring 2012, Hupp had only been the airport director for a short time when Boise Weekly asked her what route she would like to see come to Boise.
"Can I only have one?" she asked. "As far as destinations, we know that there's strong demand for service to Dallas and/or Houston, and they're hub destinations."
Two years later, Hupp helped secure United Airlines' direct service between Boise and Houston. She'll be there to greet the American flight from DFW, and she'll be there to see passengers off on the first nonstop American flight from BOI to DFW.
"This will be our 20th nonstop daily service at the Boise Airport," said Hupp, who managed 15 nonstop flights when she first became director. She still has her sights set on a nonstop direct flight to an East Coast hub, such as New York, Atlanta or Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Hupp has lined up at least 10 meetings while she's at the Airports Council International-North America JumpStart Air Service Development Conference in Denver in mid-June. When it comes to optimism, though, Hupp has a pretty good poker face.
"I always want to under promise and over deliver," she said, adding she'll meet with carriers American, Delta and United at the conference. "But for those airlines, it's no longer about making money on any route. It's about the route where they would make the most money."
As for airline passenger' experience, it turns out Boise enjoys some of the lowest travel prices when compared to similar-sized cities.
"Compared to our peer group—and that includes cities like Tucson, [Ariz.]; El Paso, [Texas]; Tulsa, [Okla.]; Grand Rapids, [Mich.]; and Oklahoma City—our fares are among the lowest," said Hupp. "Yes, we've added a lot of new destinations, but what has really brought our prices down is new competition on existing routes like Seattle and Salt Lake City."
Lower fares and more flights easily translate into more passengers, but for those planning summer vacations (and beyond), airport officials suggest enrolling in TSA Pre, an opportunity to jump to an express line at security. TSA Pre has been around since 2011 but gaining in popularity recently since security lines have gotten out of control. It's $85 to enroll and you can apply online at tsa.gov/tsa-precheck.
"We've had pre-check for a while, but what is new to Boise is the Global Entry Program," said Hupp, referring to the recently-begun Boise interview process for another designation for overseas travelers.
"Once you're granted a global entry card, it really speeds your reentry through customs when you're returning to the U.S. from a foreign country," she said.
- Rebecca Hupp
- Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp welcomes new direct routes.
Closer to Home
Many summer travelers never go near an airport. According to a new study by Longwoods Travel USA, Idaho counted 33 million "person trips"—defined as one trip taken by one visitor—in 2015. Of those, 40 percent were overnight trips, generating $1.7 billion in spending.
"Idaho tourism is the third largest industry in the state—third only to agriculture and technology," said Matt Borud, chief business development and marketing officer at the Idaho Department of Commerce. "It's a $3.3 billion industry, representing about 26,000 jobs across the state."
Borud should know. He spends his days marketing Idaho to outsiders and, quite often, to Idahoans.
Of all the travelers in Idaho during 2015, 28 percent were Idahoans. In order, that's followed by Washington, California, Utah, Oregon, Montana, Florida, Texas, New York and Illinois.
"We're up 13 percent over last year, and we're on track to surpass some of the highest numbers in state history," said Borud.
Idaho Tourism, a division of the Department of Commerce, doesn't take any money from the general fund to fuel its marketing campaigns. Instead, it depends on a 2 percent Idaho lodging tax.
"For our budget... how should I say this? Well, we eat what we kill. What I mean by that is we can only spend the funds from the lodging tax, which is dependent on our efforts to draw people to Idaho," said Borud. "We're on track to get about $10 million this year."
How Idaho Tourism allocates its budget will be different going forward, as well.
"In the past three years, we spent about 50 percent print, 50 percent digital. We're moving to about 95 percent digital this year," said Borud. "It's a big change, but instead of going a mile wide and an inch deep, it was time for us to go an inch wide and a mile deep."
That means social media.
Idaho Tourism has brought on a full-time employee to populate online platforms, especially Facebook, with multiple stories and advertisements boasting about Idaho and its many attractions.
Most important, Idaho Tourism is now able to see if those people reading those Facebook posts end up traveling to the Gem State.
"Let me give you an example," said Borud. "There's a pixel embedded on those Facebook posts. If a person who saw that ad on their smartphone travels into in Idaho, we'll be able to track that pixel, and then we'll see if the post on Idaho was successful."
Idaho Tourism's target demographics are what you might expect: families and homeowners in particular. Research also indicates most decisions are driven by the matriarch. Idaho Tourism also targets families within an eight-hour drive to Idaho—in other words, families in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Montana.
For all of the cold, hard data, the messaging to those families takes direct aim at the heart. In a campaign it calls "18 Summers," designed by Boise-based ad agency Drake Cooper, Idaho Tourism reminds parents "childhood does not rollover" and "you only have 18 summers to make the memories your kids will remember for a lifetime."
"We're airing those commercials in the markets with the greatest possibilities: Seattle and Salt Lake City," said Borud. "It's very powerful stuff. I'm a new parent and I get misty-eyed just thinking about it."
The new father said he loves to travel as much as anyone.
"I just got back from Moscow a few weeks ago and I was reminded how spectacular the Palouse is," he said. "Breathtaking. It blows me away."
Back at the Boise Airport, Hupp said she'll even take some time later this summer to embark on a vacation with her family.
"We're heading back East to visit Maine. It's just great this time of year," she said.
For now, hoteliers, restaurateurs, shopkeepers and especially those TSA screeners at the Boise Airport are bracing for what could be a record-setting summer of travel in Idaho.