Trump’s shutdown is nearly five weeks old, and as millions of Americans are going without pay, a potential crisis is hitting America’s airports.
Millions of people traveled over the just-concluded holiday weekend, and it was reported that the percentage of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screeners missing work has hit 10 percent.
The TSA workers who screen passengers may miss another paycheck if the shutdown doesn’t end early this week. According to TSA, many of them say the financial hardship is preventing them from reporting to work.
Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii tweeted her support for TSA workers and commented on the financial difficulties they are facing:
“Today, I visited @TSA agents at #HNL who have been working without pay for 31 days. They shared so many heartbreaking stories. For ex.: some workers are taking out personal loans, considering moving in with their parents, and facing eviction because they can’t pay their rent.”
Today, I visited @TSA agents at #HNL who have been working without pay for 31 days. They shared so many heartbreaking stories. For ex.: some workers are taking out personal loans, considering moving in with their parents, and facing eviction because they can’t pay their rent pic.twitter.com/fdhWSXoMlY
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) January 22, 2019
TSA has reported that the national average waiting time in airport checkpoint lines has not increased dramatically, although in some airports the lines have grown much longer during the shutdown.
The agency sent extra screeners to the busiest U.S. airports, including Atlanta, LaGuardia Airport in New York, and Newark, New Jersey. A TSA spokesman said other airports might also be getting additional help if they run into staffing shortages.
Sunday’s 10 percent absence rate translates into more than 3,000 airport screeners who missed work because they called in sick. TSA has 51,000 screeners throughout the nation. On Saturday 8 percent of the screeners missed work because of the “sick out” caused by Trump’s shutdown.
With fewer screeners, TSA closed one of its security checkpoints at Baltimore/Washington airport over the weekend according to an airport spokesperson.
Another checkpoint at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport has been closed for some time, but an airport spokesman said lines were of normal length at the other airport checkpoints.
According to independent reports, TSA is managing the high sick-out rate fairly well. The agency said that on Sunday it screened 1.78 million passengers, and only 6.9 percent — roughly 120,000 people — had to wait 15 minutes or longer to get through security.
On Monday, several major airports including Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago’s O’Hare reported normal security lines and few problems. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which had some of the longest lines in the country last week, reported waits of 15 to 30 minutes at domestic-travel checkpoints Monday. Los Angeles International Airport showed most lines under 20 minutes.
TSA appeared to get a break due to bad weather in that winter storms in the Midwest and Northeast led airlines to cancel more than 4,400 flights over the three-day holiday weekend. In these areas the number of passenger flying, and who had to be screened by TSA workers, was greatly reduced.
A few airports, such as San Francisco’s, perform screening functions using government-approved private contractors who have not been affected by the shutdown. As the shutdown continues it is likely that more airports will consider using private contractors also, especially if large numbers of federal workers continue to call in sick.
The inconvenience of travel delays for millions of Americans could easily turn into a crisis for the travel industry the longer the shutdown lasts. This is a growing concern as there is no sign that either Donald Trump or congressional Democrats are anxious to resolve the current impasse over spending and the Mexican border wall that caused the president to shutdown one-fourth of the federal government.
The Martin Luther King holiday is not one of the bigger travel weekends, but concern is growing about upcoming holidays where the travel volumes are much greater.
“Presidents’ Day weekend is much bigger, and then spring break and Easter— those are really important,” said Savanthi Syth, an airline analyst for investment firm Raymond James. Presidents’ Day is February 18, and Syth said if the shutdown continues into next month it will cause some passengers to cancel travel plans.
The “sick out” by 10% of the TSA workers is just one small symptom of the financial and economic problems that Donald Trump is causing by acting like a petulant child who is angry that he is not getting his way.
Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats know, however, that if they give in to Trump now, he will be able to threaten them on other funding priorities in the future. The Constitution requires that Congress appropriate funds, and set priorities, and Trump’s moves blatantly violate these legal requirements.
Donald Trump doesn’t care about the Constitution, and he doesn’t care about federal employees and contractors who have lost their incomes. He only cares about his own ego, and that is what the current shutdown is all about.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.