Wednesday marked the 26th day of a partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, and it has started to have a larger and larger impact on the travel industry.
According to Administrator David P. Pekoske, the Transportation Security Administration is struggling with staff who increasingly are calling out sick because they can no longer afford to work for free. TSA is still managing wait times (on Tuesday, almost all travelers waited less than 30 minutes and 97.3 percent of passengers waited less than 15 minutes) but the absentee rate is increasing (6.1 percent compared to 37 percent one year ago) and a number of airports across the country have been forced to close checkpoints in order to consolidate the staff that are working.
On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recalled 3,600 safety inspectors and engineers who had been furloughed because of the shutdown, “to ensure continuous operational safety of the entire national airspace," the agency said. That group won’t be getting paychecks during the shutdown, but it adds a “layer of safety” that was “missing when our inspectors weren’t working,” according to president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union Mike Perrone.
Unpaid Federal air traffic controllers on Wednesday handed out brochures to the public in a number of cities across the country, trying to stir up support for reopening the government to ensure that training and weekly safety meetings, which have been on hold during the shutdown, resume.
And while National Parks across the country haven’t been strongly impacted by the shutdown, as it’s not high season for most of them, there has been reports of increasing litter and irreversible damage at some, such as downed Joshua trees at its namesake park in California.
Outside of airport security, airlines have also been impacted.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said during the airline’s conference call on Tuesday that it would lose about $25 million in revenue in January because less people, mostly government contractors and employees, are traveling during the partial government shutdown. Delta also said it will likely have to delay the debut of its Airbus A220, which was scheduled for Jan. 31.
Southwest Airlines, which said it was close to launching its much-anticipated service from the West Coast to Hawaii, is still waiting on FAA certification, something that can’t come until the government reopens.
United CEO Oscar Munoz said his airline has not yet seen a “significant” impact on bookings because of the shutdown, but told CNBC this week that “the longer this goes, of course there’s going to be impact, and we do worry about that.”
ASTA issues statement
American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) President and CEO Zane Kerby weighed in on the shutdown on Wednesday calling on Congress and the Trump administration to work together to end the government shutdown.
“While the immediate impact to our industry is limited, the longer the shutdown lasts the greater the chance of negative economic consequences. We’re specifically concerned about issues ranging from airport security staffing to National Park and museum closures to air traffic control functions to passport and trusted traveler program enrollments to the macroeconomic consequences of 800,000 Americans going without a paycheck.
“With regard to airport security, we call on Congress and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to immediately halt to the diversion of a portion TSA security fees imposed or travelers to the federal government’s general fund, which has been ongoing since 2013. Derived from true ‘user fees,’ this revenue should be used to fund the TSA’s security screening operations rather than paying down the federal deficit, and thus limit the impact on the flying public.”