President Trump announced that the government shutdown will end for a period of three weeks until February 15, 2019. The temporary agreement allows a three-week period for further discussions and negotiations. An end to the shutdown, however, may not mean everything returns to normal immediately.
While the government shutdown affected all travelers in some way, business travel especially felt the impact. A poll conducted by the Global Business Travel Association indicated that about one-third of respondents saw repercussions from the shutdown.
Business Travel Pains
Of 409 member respondents, nearly half said they had to deal with canceled bookings. Their travelers complained of airport delays, and business meetings or opportunities being canceled altogether. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that nearly $100 million a day in lost economic output due to impacts on business travel.
Air Traffic Control
This past week showed considerable delays and runway closures at LaGuardia, Newark, and Philadelphia due to Air Traffic Control staffing issues. These delays included partial ground stops to clear congestion, causing a ripple effect across the nation.
Most complaints and concerns surrounded the high number of TSA agents calling-in sick. Working without pay forced many to find other ways to supplement income, or to simply avoid the cost of gas and childcare by staying at home. While many travelers had commented on extremely long wait times, TSA spokesperson Michael Bilello claimed the absentee rate was only slightly higher than usual during this time of year. He also stated that most airports were still seeing TSA Security and PreCheck lines within normal standards – 30 minutes for TSA Security and 15 minutes for PreCheck.
How Airports are Dealing with the Situation
Larger airports were most likely to exceed TSA’s standard wait times. Many airports closed certain TSA security checkpoints, and redirected agents to ensure the busiest terminals were properly staffed. Additionally, TSA shifted agents from smaller airports to supplement staff at the larger cities.
Impacted airports included Baltimore/Washington International and Miami International, which closed one of its concourses due to double the usual number of call-outs. Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport both closed some screening facilities to more effectively use the staff they had. At the nation’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, security wait times were adding up to an hour or more. As TSA agents are able to start returning to work, the hope is that these wait times will quickly begin to recede, and closed concourses and screening facilities will be fully functional again.
What Travelers Can Do
It’s still a trying time. Travel can be difficult in the best of times, and there are some things travelers can do to make things easier for everyone involved.
- Plan – Continue to arrive well in advance of your flight. Wear shoes that are easy to slip off, and skip the jewelry. Arrive knowing the situation as it is.
- Know Guidelines – Remove items from your pockets and place them in a carry-on bag before going through security to speed things up. Remember the rule for carry-on liquids and aerosols.
- Use Available Services – Have apps handy that offer real-time delay updates. Sign up for Travel Incorporated’s Watch4Me service, which sends pushed notifications to your mobile device with changes to your travel plans. Sign up for TSA PreCheck or CLEAR.
- Be Patient – Everyone is in the same situation as you. Remember the TSA agents have been working without pay. Offer a smile or a kind word.