With the threat of no pay cheque in January, security staff have been calling in sick, leading to a shortage of personnel and therefore it’s taking more time to screen passengers.
The Airports Council International-North America said it is getting anxious over the impact on security if the number of officers calling in sick increases.
“We’re concerned that a prolonged government shutdown could potentially impact security and wait times at airports,” the organisation’s Senior Vice President for Security, Christopher Bidwell said.
The partial government shutdown is now in its third week and has bee promoted by President Donald Trump’s demand for more than $5 billion to build a wall on the Mexico border and the Democrats refusal to grant him the funding.
It has led to hundreds of thousands of government workers being forced to work without pay or being told to stay home until funding is re-established.
The shutdown has led to fears by TSA agents that they won’t get paid this month, leading them to take time off work. At the Dallas Fort Worth airport, for instance, 5.5% of TSA security agents called in sick last Friday, compared to the 3.5% more than on a typical day, TSA Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs Michael Bilello wrote on Twitter.
In New York City’s LaGuardia International Airport, meanwhile, the number of TSA agents calling in sick led to long queues snaking around the terminals on Sunday.
Bidwell said airports are in talks with their local TSA managers to help boost security screener numbers and maintain efficiency. However, personnel not verified by the TSA, such as other airport and airline workers, are not allowed to screen bags and people.
“It’s certainly not built into their budgets right now, but if it came down to it they may look to find the resources to support that sort of thing on a voluntary and temporary basis,” Bidwell said.
There is no accurate data on how many TSA officers have called in sick since the shutdown began, but the TSA has acknowledged that it’s higher than average. So far the disruption has been kept to a minimum with just a few airports experiencing longer than average screening delays, but that could change later this week.