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Salt Lake airport expects to shatter records with NBA All-Star Game, holiday weekend

Feb 17, 2023, 5:04 PM | Updated: 5:23 pm

FILE - Travelers wait for baggage at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Wedn...

FILE - Travelers wait for baggage at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allen/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allen/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Presidents Day weekend often results in an uptick in travelers at the Salt Lake City International Airport, especially as skiers use the holiday to hit the slopes.

However, airport administration and security officials are now preparing for traffic unlike anything they’ve seen before with this year’s holiday coinciding with the end of the NBA All-Star Weekend in downtown Salt Lake City.

Officials say up to 40,000 or more travelers are expected through the airport’s front doors on Monday, a 40% uptick from normal holiday traffic and much more than a normal “big day” of 30,000, said Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City International Airport. It’s also expected to be busy as people continue to arrive in Utah over the next few days.

“We’re going to be setting records on all fronts,” Wyatt said.

Airport officials are currently dealing with the first issue related to both the NBA All-Star Weekend and the holiday: high numbers of private aircraft in addition to commercial service. It’s creating a packed airfield with constant communication between airports and aircraft.

In fact, one of the least-used runways at Salt Lake City International Airport is closed this week for private jet parking, according to Wyatt.

Then comes the real chaos, as everyone leaves at about the same time Monday.

High traffic volumes are expected to begin at 5 a.m. and continue through 4 p.m. as people head out from the basketball events and ski trips, said Matt Davis, the Transportation Security Administration director for Utah. The agency plans to bring in 40 agents from 10 airports, including eight K-9 units to handle the record uptick.

An explosives detecting dog named Mango attends a press conference where officials from the Transportation Security Administration and Salt Lake City International Airport discuss high travel volumes in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, regarding the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. Large numbers of travelers are anticipated for the game and Presidents Day weekend.
An explosives detecting dog named Mango attends a press conference where officials from the Transportation Security Administration and Salt Lake City International Airport discuss high travel volumes in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, regarding the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. Large numbers of travelers are anticipated for the game and Presidents Day weekend. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

The K-9 units will rotate throughout the day in different shifts because of the high workload, said Bobbie Ohm, a TSA K-9 handler based in Utah.

“We do have a rotation to give the dogs an adequate rest cycle,” she explained. “We let them work and then give them enough time to recoup for their next run.”

Meanwhile, airport staff members will also be assigned as ambassadors over the next few days. They will offer passengers arriving in Salt Lake City tips on where to go downtown or along the Wasatch Front this week. Then, on Monday, they will help direct people where to go, especially if it’s their first time navigating through the airport.

Travelers exit the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. The upcoming NBA All-Star Game will bring large numbers of travelers.
Travelers exit the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. The upcoming NBA All-Star Game will bring large numbers of travelers. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

Even with the extra staff members on hand, airport officials are urging people to plan ahead with five steps:

  1. Check out of your hotel five hours before your flight
  2. Return your rental car four hours before your flight
  3. Arrive at the airport ticket counter three hours before your flight. It’s worth noting that Utah Transit Authority’s green line TRAX service to the airport is free to ride through Tuesday; rideshare service is also expected to be busy on Monday
  4. Proceed through security two hours before your flight
  5. Arrive at your gate an hour before your flight

The advanced timing is “certainly more” than what’s recommended on a normal day, Wyatt said. However, this weekend, especially Monday, will not be normal.

“We just want to be sure that people get through security in time to get to their gate,” he said. “We feel very optimistic about the week ahead and we’re really excited here to be able to show the airport to a larger, bigger audience and to show the community and people what we’re able to do here.”

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Salt Lake airport expects to shatter records with NBA All-Star Game, holiday weekend