This week, thousands of families in Minnesota will take to the skies and highways, thanks to the annual teachers’ union conference.
Known as MEA weekend (short for Minnesota Educator Academy), the block of time away from work means many families with school-age children will flock to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for a fall vacation.
“MEA week is typically one of the busiest weeks of the year at the airport, with many families taking advantage of the kids’ time off school to take one last vacation before the snow flies,” Phil Burke, director of MSP Airport operations, said in a statement.
Security screenings are expected to surge due to increased passenger traffic, according to Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
On an average day, the TSA screens about 34,000 passengers at MSP. The busiest day so far this year was March 10, with some 47,300 people screened.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the numbers are expected to increase to more than 43,000 travelers screened a day.
“The biggest push has been Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday,” Dankers said. “However, with the change in school district calendars, this year we saw a surge on Thursday and Friday and again over the weekend. [It’s] hard to differentiate among all the passengers, but we know that MEA is a big factor.”
Some school districts have the entire week off, including Burnsville-Eagan-Savage. Minneapolis Public Schools and Anoka-Hennepin district schools have Wednesday through Friday off, while St. Paul and Osseo-Area schools have just Thursday and Friday off.
Last month, TSA introduced four “innovation lanes” at the south checkpoint in Terminal 1, which use larger bins and feature a smoother transition for items requiring more screening. The MEA period this month is the first big test for the new equipment.
TSA officials suggest travelers arrive two hours before their scheduled departure and note that children 12 and under can leave their shoes and jackets on as they move through the screening process.
Officials at MSP Airport don’t know exactly how many people will travel this week for MEA, but they’ve planned a series of events to make travel a bit more tolerable.
Award-winning baker Katherine Gerdes led a team of bakers near the north security checkpoint in Terminal 1 Tuesday in an effort to break the Guinness World Record for highest doughnut stack. Gerdes, a past competitor on television shows Project Runway and Donut Showdown, owns Angel Food Bakery and Donut Bar on Concourse E at MSP, as well as a bakery in downtown Minneapolis.
The airport, together with the Science Museum of Minnesota, also is celebrating science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills this week, with handouts, air dancers and “super structure activities” using just wooden dowels and rubber bands.
For many families, MEA week means a road trip.
Bob Gustafson, spokesman for Visit Duluth, said “we see people from all over the country come out for the end of leaf season, and lots of people from the Twin Cities.” Some rooms are still available, he said.
Rachel Batt, spokeswoman for the Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce, said for those heading to the North Shore, MEA weekend is “the last hurrah” before year’s end. “It’s the tail-end of leaf season, but there are still leaves to be found with great color.”