The Transportation Security Administration had the busiest summer on record, screening more than 239 million passengers between Memorial Day and Labor Day, an increase of 9 million passengers over the same period last year.
The higher workload for TSA officers has prompted the union representing the screeners to demand that the federal government hire more front-line workers.
"The people in the chain of command forget why we were put here," said Hydrick Thomas, president of the council that represents TSA screeners at the American Federation of Government Employees. "We were put here to protect."
The airports were so busy this summer that the TSA said four summer days broke the TSA's top 10 list for busiest days in agency history: June 29, June 30, May 26 and July 21.
The record may not be surprising considering that airline industry officials have been touting an increase in air travel over the past few years, thanks to cheaper fares and strong consumer confidence.
A TSA spokeswoman said the agency can hire only as many screeners as are allowed under the annual budget approved by Congress. The most recent federal budget approved the full-time equivalent of 43,000 officers, which represents an increase of less than 1% over the previous year's budget.
Thomas said the turnover rate among TSA officers is so high that the agency can't hire new screeners fast enough to replace those who leave to take jobs with higher pay and better benefits.
"If they don't manage this agency and hire enough employees, they are going to have problems," he said.