Brace for Delays: Unpaid TSA Workers Call in Sick Amid Shutdown

TSA Delays Shutdown

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As the federal government shutdown stretches well into a third week, TSA agents are reportedly calling in sick in larger and larger numbers as they go without pay, leading to long lines at some airports nationwide.

Photos flooded the internet over the weekend as the so-called “sickout” appeared to worsen. Minnesota Public Radio News said there was an hour-plus long line at the normally sleepy Terminal 2 at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport Sunday. Lines to clear security at New York-LaGuardia (LGA) seemed to stretch on forever. CNN reported that 170 or more agents have called in sick to New York City-JFK (JFK), while callouts are up at Dallas-Fort Worth and Raleigh-Durham (RDU) as well.


The TSA acknowledged that call outs have increased since the holidays but downplayed the severity of the issue in a statement.

“Screening wait times remain well within TSA standards. Yesterday, TSA screened over 2.2 million passengers. Overall, 99.8 percent waited less than 30 minutes,” the agency said on Sunday. “We are grateful to the agents who show up to work, remain focused on the mission and are respectful to the traveling public.”

The partial government shutdown is more than three weeks old, which means TSA agents haven’t been paid for three weeks. These employees are deemed “essential,” which means they’re required to work without pay.

And as President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress square off over $5 billion in funding for a wall on the southern border, there’s no end in sight.


Our Analysis

This could get ugly.

The TSA insists the effects from any employees calling in sick has been limited. Some of the pictures from airports nationwide tell a different tale. And few things rile the public more than long delays at the airport.

As the shutdown stretches on, plan ahead and arrive at the airport even earlier than normal. Use the TSA’s smartphone app to scope out wait times at your home airport – though beware these aren’t always. In our experience, using TSA PreCheck can help limit your wait times even during this shutdown. If you don’t have it already, check out some of the top credit cards offering free TSA PreCheck or Global Entry enrollment.

The impact of the federal government shutdown on U.S. travelers is starting to stack up. Global Entry enrollment has been halted for weeks as interview enrollment centers nationwide have closed down. Delta could be forced to delay the launch of its new Airbus A220 planes at the end of the month, as the federal inspectors charged with giving the airline its final certification aren’t working.

But long waits at the airport could top them all. If more TSA agents call in sick as the shutdown drags on, it could be a disaster for travelers and national security alike.

Bottom Line

Make sure you arrive at your airport earlier than normal, as there’s no telling what you’ll find. But above all, be kind and gracious to the TSA agents helping you through security – no matter how long you stood in line.


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Lead photo credit to Oddharmonic via Flickr

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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