More than three weeks into the government shutdown that began on Dec. 21, federal workers are feeling the pinch as some 800,000 workers are furloughed or working without pay. Among them are some 51,000 employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), responsible for air travel security screenings. So are airports affected by the government shutdown? Reports are circulating which paint a bleak picture of the situation for some of the country's largest airports, and it doesn't look much better for travelers.
Reports have been circulating about TSA agents calling out for several days, and while the TSA has denied that call outs are happening at a significant rate, it looks like things may have hit a breaking point. Numerous airports have reportedly been hit by long lines and insufficient staffing while the shutdown continues, leading to long lines and extra stress for travelers. Per a tweet by Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Jan. 13, one of the airport's TSA checkpoints was closed that day, which The Daily Beast reported was due to a shortage of screeners. It remained closed on the morning of Monday, Jan. 14, per another tweet. Meanwhile, travelers at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport reportedly experienced six closed security lanes and hour-plus waits on Monday, per USA Today, while Washington-Dulles airport also saw closed lanes, Politico reported. Over the weekend, Miami International Airport closed a terminal to accommodate a staffing shortage, which they told the Associated Press was due to a staff shortage caused by the shutdown. Basically, if you're traveling, better pack a snack. You might be there awhile.
A spokesperson for the TSA tells Elite Daily via email that on Sunday, Jan. 13, the security wait time nationwide for 99.1 percent of passengers was less than 30 minutes, and adds, "TSA, airport authorities and airlines will continue to work closely to ensure resources are optimized, efforts to consolidate operations are actively managed, and screening and security are never compromised." Still, they say, travelers should contact their airline before showing up at the airport to make sure they don't miss a flight.
The TSA has also been insistent that the shutdown was not posing a threat to airport security.
"Security standards will NOT and have NOT been compromised, tweeted TSA Assistant Administrator of Public Affairs Michael Billelo on Jan. 9. "Reports thereof are misleading, agenda-driven and only embolden the adversary."
Many TSA agents, like unpaid federal employees more broadly, are under the burden of continuing to support needed services for the public while feeling a financial burn. Though the TSA on Jan. 13 announced it'd be giving the unpaid employees a day's pay and a $500 bonus for working Dec. 22 in an effort to alleviate some of their burdens, it's only a fraction of what they were owed after multiple weeks of no pay. Federal employees missed their first paycheck on Jan. 11.
"Some [TSA agents] have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown," said Hydrick Thomas, the TSA council president for the American Federation of Government Employees, in a statement last week according to The Hill.
The shutdown has been ongoing as President Donald Trump and lawmakers are at an impasse over negotiations for funding a border wall with Mexico, a demand that Trump insists upon but Democrats say is a non-starter. As of Jan. 14, there seems to be no end in sight, as the shutdown is now officially the longest government shutdown in American history.
Per a tweet by the Billelo on Monday, Jan. 14, that day's absence rate was more than double what it was this day last year.
He added in another tweet, TSA "will reallocate screening officers on a national basis to meet staffing shortages that cannot be addressed locally."
The shutdown continues to stretch on with no apparent end in sight. So if you're traveling soon, it may be wise to take the TSA's advice to double check what time to arrive and play it safe. (And it never hurts to give a thank-you to the agents who are working.)