Security lines at airports across the country are starting grow long as nationwide action from Transportation Security Agency (TSA) workers starts to take its toll. On Friday, TSA reported that the agency, which is responsible for operating security checkpoints at airports across the country, was suffering from staffing shortages as a function of the government shutdown. According to the report, TSA agents have been calling in sick in record numbers during the shutdown in protest of withheld pay. Frontline staff at the agency have worked without pay since the shutdown began, though they expect to be paid in full after the government resumes operations.
The shutdown is also affecting staffing levels in air traffic control towers, though those absences have been less in the public eye. Starting on Sunday, the sickouts appeared to be having an impact on wait times at a handful of typically-busy security checkpoints. At New York’s LaGuardia airport, passengers passing through Terminal C, which is primarily inhabited by Delta Air Lines, were subject to wait times of around 90 minutes. TSA Pre-check, the service that typically expedites pre-cleared passengers through security, was also closed at that checkpoint.
Requests to TSA for comment on how it’s going to handle the continued slowdown have gone unanswered, as many office staff at the agency have been furloughed. Over email, the agency confirmed that “due to the lapse in government funding, you may experience a delayed response” in reaching the team.
One bright spot in the slower security lines has been for those who subscribe to Clear, an expedited screening service that works much like TSA pre-check. Employees of that service aren’t federally paid, which means those checkpoints are fully staffed. Passengers going through the service, however, still have to pass through the magnetometers and x-ray scanners at the end of the screening process – those hurdles are still operated by TSA staff.
That’s what helped out Andries Coetzee. After reporting on the long security lines at LaGuardia, Coetzee was ushered to the front of the line via his Clear membership. For everyone else in security lines this week, wait times seem to be only mounting.
On Sunday morning, lines at Seattle Tacoma had already started to build:
This TSA line at SeaTac is out of this world. I’ve NEVER been in a line this long before.
— mika (@MikaaSande) January 6, 2019
Andries Coetzee, who was passing through Terminal C in LaGuardia early on Sunday afternoon, captured a video of the chaos at that airport:
Long, long lines at LaGuardia. #TrumpShutdown pic.twitter.com/mDq1uvt73G
— Andries W. Coetzee (@andries_coetzee) January 6, 2019
The lines appear to be getting worse as the workweek gets started. On Monday morning, NPR’s Tom Gjelten reported massive lines in Utah’s Salt Lake City airport:
@TSA @SpoxDHS TSA line at SLC Monday 7:30am pic.twitter.com/d9Alo8c4Fl
— Tom Gjelten (@tgjelten) January 7, 2019
So in the long run for now, if you are expecting to fly during this government shutdown, GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY!