Update On Air-Travel Delays Created By The U.S. Government Shutdown, And How To Deal With Them – Forbes

TSA agents work at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport  last week. U.S. airports are preparing for more disruptions if the partial government shutdown continues. (Photo: Daniel Acker/© 2019 Bloomberg Finance LP)© 2019 Bloomberg Finance LP

The partial government shutdown that began on Dec. 22 has surpassed the previous 21-day record for the 
longest government closure in history, and President Trump said Friday that the shutdown
might drag on for “months or even years,” Air travelers are bracing for increasing problems as the shutdown continues.

Transportation Security Administration screeners are the ones we notice most, going though security checks. But Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, and air traffic controllers are also among the more than 400,000 essential federal workers who are working without pay.

TSA’s union has filed a lawsuit demanding that their members be paid, and union officials have mentioned that screeners might walk off the job permanently if they don’t get relief.

Air-traffic controllers have so far kept things running normally; unpaid air traffic controllers are moving to “educate the public about what is happening” instead of protesting. But the president of the air-traffic controllers union told the AP that there is already a shortage of controllers, and that some 1,900 are eligible to retire. If they take that option, the government might have to limit air traffic, leading to more delays.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association also filed a lawsuit against the administration on Friday to force the government to pay its members for the hours they’ve worked since the shutdown began.

Besides the essential workers, a nearly equal number of federal workers are not deemed “essential” and have been placed on temporary leave. Their absence is affecting some functions ranging from FAA inspections of aircraft to CBP interviews with applicants for Global Entry status.

For example, about 3,300 safety inspectors under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have not been working. These are regulatory workers who certify the inspections done by the airlines and companies that repair aircraft. To offset this, the FAA has recalled a small number of inspectors to work, and has reassured travelers that their safety is not being compromised. Yet.

Understaffed security checkpoints have
resulted in extra long lines for passengers, despite TSA spokesman Michael Bilello claiming that the screener absentee rate was only slightly higher than normal for this time of year.

Miami International Airport, which has seen double the number of usual callouts by TSA screeners, and closed one of its concourses for part of the day. Houston International Airport closed part of its screening facilities over the weekend.

The shutdown will continue to affect air travel and even safety. Alaska Airlines warns that without FAA officials to sign off, the new Paine Field Airport near Seattle may not open as scheduled on Feb. 11. And Delta Air Lines’ plans to start flying its newest aircraft, the Airbus A220, by the end of January could also be slowed.

U.S. Travel Association estimates that the standoff is costing the economy $100 million a day just in lost travel expenditures, and that airports, visas and Customs may become increasingly affected.

The Global Business Travel Association said that a survey of more than 400 members this past week revealed that more than two-thirds of those polled are concerned about a negative impact on their business if the shutdown continues.

How to best cope with all this? Four suggestions:

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