The partial federal government shutdown is almost a month old. And as that shutdown drags on, it's getting worse and worse for TSA security agents – causing backups at airport security.
The problems started to crop up earlier this month, with sporadic delays at airports across the nation. Though TSA workers aren't being paid, they're required to work because they're deemed “essential.” Thus the so-called “sickouts.”
TSA officials have acknowledged more workers were calling in sick but have downplayed the severity of the issue, saying it's not causing widespread delays. But that might be changing.
After routinely missing 4% to 5% of its workforce in the first weeks of the shutdown, that spiked to close to 8% over the weekend. A major snowstorm on the East Coast likely didn't help.
Here's what that looked like in Atlanta (ATL) on Monday morning, where several security checkpoints were closed and wait times exceeded an hour.
TSA lines at Hartsfield-Jackson are more than an hour long this morn, backing up into baggage claim pic.twitter.com/vqsTaxA2sO
— Kelly Yamanouchi (@atlairportnews) January 14, 2019
Due at least in part to the snowstorm, Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD) closed down several security checkpoints on Monday, too.
Over the weekend, Houston-Intercontinental (IAH) shut down all check-ins for an entire terminal due to staffing issues. They had to route passengers departing from Terminal B to other check-in areas from Sunday through Monday morning. Miami (MIA) also closed one of its terminals early every day over the weekend due to staffing issues.
Almost a month into the shutdown, one thing is clear: This situation is getting worse. And of the many impacts on travel from the shutdown, this one is the most visible and frustrating for travelers.
The longer this stretches out, the harder it is to convince TSA workers to come to work. And that's bad news.
The TSA is employing some extraordinary measures to pay some of its workers, including $500 bonuses for all uniformed agents. But those pale in comparison to a paycheck, and it's unlikely to stem the trend of workers calling in sick.
If you're heading to the airport in the coming weeks, show up earlier than normal. Not every airport is being hit hard with these staffing issues, but there's no telling whether security will be smooth or plagued by delays on the day of your flight.
Use the MyTSA app to check on wait times at your local airport. Just keep in mind that these times are user-generated, so take them with a grain of salt.
Having TSA PreCheck can be a godsend during backups, and that's especially true during this shutdown. And while Global Entry applications are on hold during the shutdown, PreCheck memberships are still being processed.
But above all: Be nice to the TSA agents helping you through security, no matter how long it takes. These people are working one of the most stressful jobs in the travel industry for no pay.
The TSA's workforce issues are getting worse, not better. Plan ahead.
Lead photo courtesy of John Hallett via Flickr