How the U.S. government shutdown may (or may not) impact travelers

January 16, 2019 Mark Dauner

Whether you're a business traveler trying to get to your next meeting or a vacation traveler trying to get to your next cruise, you'll more than likely interface with multiple federal employees and services as you plan for and embark upon your trip. The U.S. Federal Government shutdown that began on December 22, 2018 continues and there's no clear end in sight quite yet. Is the shutdown impacting travel in the United States? The answer seems to be "not yet" for most government services related to travel. Although federal employees aren't being paid during the shutdown, most remain working and services continue to operate.

Air Traffic Control

The FAA says that, although not being paid, air traffic control staff are still on the job and making sure planes take off, land and are routed safely at airports across the country. The longer the shutdown lasts, the higher chance there will be for flight delays due to staff shortages.  

TSA and Customs

Officials from the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection state that, at this time, services have not been severely impacted. There are some reports of TSA agents calling in sick, and wait times at certain airports have increased. Some airports, including Houston (IAH), Washington Dulles (IAD), Miami (MIA) and others have begun to close security checkpoints and direct travelers to other checkpoints in an attempt to get ahead of and compensate for staffing shortfalls. Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta (ATL) has reported among the longest wait times at security for travelers.  According to the TSA, "Nationwide, TSA screened 1.60 million passengers yesterday (Tuesday, Jan. 15). Overall, passengers waited less than 30 minutes and 97.3 percent of passengers, less than 15 minutes. In TSA Pre✓®lanes, passengers on average waited less than 10 minutes. "

Travelers may want to show up just a little earlier than normal as a precaution

Trusted Traveler Programs

If you're a member of a Trusted Traveler Program such as TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry, you'll be able to use those while traveling, though there are reports of some Pre-Check lanes being closed. The Department of Homeland Security says that travelers who are applying or have an interview scheduled for programs such as Global Entry may have to wait awhile, as applications are not being processed during the shutdown.

Passports

U.S. Passport services are paid for by fees and are not impacted by the government shutdown.  You will continue to be able to apply for a new passport or renew your existing passport both in the U.S. and at embassies and consulates worldwide. The only exception may be if the passport office you're visiting is located in a closed federal building.  As always, allow for plenty of time for passport processing. 

U.S. National Parks and Museums

If you're a vacation traveler looking to visit one of the country's many national parks, historical sites and museums in January, you might want to consider a change to your itinerary. Many have now closed or will be closing in the coming days. Some national parks are not gated and thus remain "open", however, important park services such as garbage collection, maintenance, security, wildlife management and search and rescue may not operate. 

Travel and Transport will continue to update you with updated information as the shutdown continues. Have you noticed any lapsed government services impacting your travel? Let us know on Twitter @TandTNews or send us a message

Additional links and resources

ABC News: How does the shutdown impact me? Answers to your frequently asked questions.

CNBC: Amid shutdown, more TSA agents are calling in sick.

CNN: How the shutdown is messing with your great American vacation

New York Times:  What Is and Isn’t Affected by the Government Shutdown

Chicago Tribune: Air travelers start to feel effects of government shutdown

USA Today: Government shutdown: TSA absences cause airport delays, terminal closures

TSA statement on checkpoint operations for January 15

This post was first published on Jaunary 6, 2019 and last updated with new information on January 16, 2019. 

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