IND airport ready to welcome March Madness fans

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The first stop for thousands of March Madness fans will be Indianapolis International Airport.

News 8 got a behind-the-scenes look as the airport rolled out the red carpet. Airport officials said they are expecting the largest influx of passengers since the coronavirus pandemic began.

For Keyanna Vred-Sechrist, it’s her second time traveling during the pandemic. “There’s more space for people to be able to distance; there’s sanitizing stations, I see those. I do feel more comfortable in this airport than any other one I’ve been at,” the Austin, Texas, resident told News 8 on Wednesday.

Officials anticipate about 13,500 people will depart this Saturday alone during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s early rounds. “We anticipate for the next couple of weekends we’re going to see similar numbers to what we see this weekend, maybe even a few more. It’s starting to feel a little bit like pre-COVID from a passenger traffic (aspect) on specific days through here,” said Aaron Batt, Indiana’s federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration.

It’s expected to be the busiest time at the airport since February 2020. “This airport is ready to handle that and much more, and to handle it comfortably, and to handle it in a respectful way, and to make sure the people have a high level of customer service,” said Mario Rodriguez, executive director of the Indianapolis International Airport Authority.

Indianapolis International Airport has rolled out the red carpet ahead of the Big Dance: Final Four signs, March Madness merchandise, and murals by local artists.

Rodriguez said, “It’s fantastic. People are buying, like I said before, people are going on vacation. They’re coming in to see a very exciting tournament or series of tournaments. It really is a fantastic feeling to see families traveling again.”

At the security checkpoint, you’ll see agents in personal protective equipment working amid acrylic barriers and the sanitizing of high-touch bins. TSA said it has made security upgrades that were years in the works, including new tech called Credential Authentication technology.

TSA’s Batt said, “That allows you to put in your driver’s license. It won’t even need your boarding pass. It’ll pull the information from that, validate that you have an active reservation, match your face. We will ask that you pull your mask down for a few seconds to match your face with your driver’s license and clear you to start the process.”

Airport leaders said they want fans to rest assured they’ll arrive at a clean airport that keeps health and safety at the forefront.

Aalay Savla is among passengers who noted the changes. “They definitely make me feel safe,” said the Birmingham, Alabama, resident.

Throughout the airport, News 8 saw plenty of hand sanitizer and reminders to socially distance. Rodriguez said, “When it comes to cleanliness, this is hospital-grade clean. Everything is being cleaned constantly. Everything is being sanitized. There’s hand sanitizers already. If you want a mask, you can have a mask. If you want five masks, you can have five masks.”

Batt with the TSA said if a person is coming or going through Indianapolis International Airport, check tsa.gov for updates as well as the airport’s website to look for things like parking availability, security wait times and flight status.