Air travelers could see growing airport security lines as Transportation Security Administration screeners consider calling in sick next week if the government shutdown lasts long enough to affect their pay.
Workers calling in sick have had “a minimal impact on operations,” TSA spokesperson Michael Bilello told The Wall Street Journal. But that could change if Congress and the White House are unable to come to an agreement that reopens the government as President Donald Trump continues to demand funding for a southern border wall.
There are conflicting reports about whether enough TSA workers have started calling in sick to significantly slow down security lines. More than 5 percent of TSA employees at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport called in sick Friday compared to the typical 3.5 percent, reported the WSJ.
Big airports including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago reported relatively normal wait times, according to the WSJ. But some travelers took to social media to complain about long wait times on Sunday, reported Forbes.
“Alaska Air [w]hy is international check in with everyone who needs assistance? I’ve been in line for an hour at SeaTac for a check in that will take less than 5 minutes, with people taking 15+ minutes to be rebooked, etc. My favorite airline is really disappointing me right now,” one Twitter user wrote Sunday.
More than 99 percent of Sunday’s 2.2 million air travelers made it through security in less than 30 minutes, according to TSA. LaGuardia Airport was the outlier with an average wait of 52 minutes, but TSA blamed that on a “mismanagement of resources” rather than a sickout, reported CBS News.
The main concern is how a sickout could affect passengers’ safety.
“The agency is well prepared to handle these different contingencies without letting it impact the actual security,” said Kip Hawley, a former TSA administrator, according to the WSJ.
The shutdown is also contributing to staffers in air traffic control towers calling out of work, reported Forbes.
The federal government employs more than 2 million people full-time excluding U.S. Postal Service employees, according to Governing.com. Roughly 80 percent of them work outside the Washington, D.C., region. More than 420,000 federal employees would be expected to work without pay, according to a press release from Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy’s Senate Appropriations Committee staff.
Congress has a practice of issuing backpay for the federal employees who keep working during the shutdown. The partial government shutdown that started Dec. 22 is now one of the longest in U.S. history and could set a record if it lasts longer than 21 days.
Meanwhile, Trump could choose to pursue his border wall via a national emergency declaration.
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