Travelling to the U.S.? Here is what you need to know

The partial government shutdown is starting to affect air travel

Over the weekend, some airports had long lines at checkpoints, apparently caused by a rising number of security officers calling in sick while they are not getting paid.

Safety inspectors aren’t even on the job. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said Monday that inspectors are being called back to work on a case-by-case basis, with a priority put on inspecting airline fleets.

So far, the impact of the shutdown — entering its 18th day on Tuesday — has been most visible for some government buildings and national parks being closed, and trash piling up on the National Mall in front of the Capitol. If the shutdown continues, food stamp recipients will go without aid.

By increasingly affecting air travel, however, the pain is being felt more widely.

Here are some common questions about the shutdown’s impact on airports and travel, along with the answers:

___

WHO IS SUPPOSED TO KEEP WORKING?

About 10,000 air traffic controllers who work for the Federal Aviation Administration and about 51,000 Transportation Security Administration officers have been told to keep reporting to work because they are deemed essential. Those workers at airport checkpoints, control towers and FAA radar stations aren’t being paid.

___

ARE THEY SHOWING UP?

TSA admits that more screeners are calling in sick at some airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth International. It gave few numbers but issued a statement Friday saying that more have been missing work since the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The TSA said the effect was “minimal.”

Then over the weekend, travellers reported longer checkpoint lines at some airports, including LaGuardia in New York. On Monday, TSA tweeted that agents screened 2.22 million passengers nationwide on Sunday, which it called a “historically busy day due to holiday travel.” TSA said only about 220,000 travellers waited at least 15 minutes at checkpoints, while 0.2 per cent — fewer than 5,000 — waited at least 30 minutes.

___

HOW WILL TSA RESPOND TO NO-SHOWS?

TSA spokesman Jim Gregory said officials are managing. “If we don’t have appropriations by midweek or so, (officers) will miss their first paycheque. That’s obviously where it becomes more difficult,” he said.

Gregory said the agency has a team of officers who can go to airports facing a shortage, a tactic developed in case natural disasters prevented screeners from getting to work.

___

WHAT ABOUT TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS?

About 1,900 air traffic controllers — nearly one in every five — are eligible to retire right now and it’s not clear how many of them will stick around. They won’t get paychecks later this week despite working over the holidays.

“I don’t know how long they’re going to stay on the job if they’re not getting a paycheque,” said Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

There is an even larger group of recently hired trainees and apprentices and Rinaldi said the prospect of a long shutdown could lead some of them to take other jobs.

___

WILL A SHORTAGE OF CONTROLLERS LEAD TO FLIGHT DELAYS?

The largest pilots’ union wrote to President Donald Trump last week urging a quick end to the shutdown, which it said was threatening the safety of the nation’s airspace.

Rinaldi, the controllers’ leader, said safety is not being compromised, but that capacity to manage traffic could be reduced, leading to flight delays. Others see that as less likely.

“It would have to get pretty bad before the government said (to airlines), ‘Hey, start scaling back your plans for service,’” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst. “You could see that in a worst-case scenario.”

An early test of the air traffic system could come around the Feb. 3 Super Bowl in Atlanta, when an influx of corporate jets and private planes will further crowd the sky above the nation’s busiest airport. Planning for handling that traffic has been put on hold, Rinaldi said.

___

WHO HAS BEEN FURLOUGHED?

Workers who aren’t deemed essential. That ranges from technicians who maintain equipment used in airport towers to clerical staff. Federal aviation safety inspectors have also been furloughed.

___

SO WHO IS INSPECTING PLANES?

FAA spokesman Gregory Martin said the agency has been recalling inspectors for certain jobs including assignments at the airlines, as it did in previous government shutdowns.

“We’re going to continue to prioritize with the resources that we have,” Martin said. “Our focus is on the commercial air carriers and volumes of people they carry.”

Martin did not say how many inspectors are working or how the number of inspections being done compared with pre-shutdown levels.

Chuck Banks, one of those furloughed inspectors, said colleagues are being called in when an airline needs something, like a plane certified for flight. The routine, normal oversight of operations at airlines and repair shops is not being done, leaving companies to regulate themselves, he said.

“Do you like the fox watching the hen house?” he said. “Every day the government stays shut down, it gets less safe to fly.”

___

WHAT OTHER GOVERNMENT SERVICES ARE AFFECTED?

The National Transportation Safety Board is delaying accident investigations and hearings. While there have not been any fatal airline crashes, the board has delayed other investigations, including an examination of a Florida highway accident that killed five children on their way to Walt Disney World.

NTSB representatives did not answer phone calls or reply to emails Monday. A recorded message for the public affairs office said nobody would respond until the shutdown ends.

Some people who applied for Global Entry, a program that lets travellers get expedited clearance into the U.S., have had interviews cancelled. Gary Leff, who writes about travel on his View from the Wing blog, said that some airports are still processing applications.

The program is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Spokespeople at the agency did not respond for comment.

READ MORE: U.S. national parks struggle to stay open, safe during shutdown

READ MORE: Each side accusing other of giving no ground on U.S. shutdown

David Koenig, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Graffiti Days 2019 a huge success

Hundreds of cars and spectators — including a History channel TV personality — turned out for the event

Bus company fears for future if another licence issued for Interior routes

Adventure Charters waiting to see if Ebus BC is approved for Prince George-Kamloops run

Sea Cadets wind up another year with Ceremonial Review

Corps is fundraising for a trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2020

WorkBC helping break down barriers to employment

Office offers a wide range of services to help people find sustainable careers

Local News Briefs: Get garden ideas with Ashcroft tour

The Rivertown Players are back, invasive plant management, reduced tipping fees, and more

Scorpion gives birth after hitching ride in B.C. woman’s luggage

A Vancouver woman inadvertently brought the animal home from a trip to Cuba

B.C. teen killed by falling tree near Victoria

Second youth also injured in freak incident during field trip at Camp Barnard near Sooke

Commercial fishers in B.C. now required to wear life-jackets on deck: WorkSafeBC

WorkSafeBC reports 24 work-related deaths in the commercial fishing industry between 2007 and 2018

Beekeeping Rossland boy finds human kindness sweet as honey

Family overwhelmed by kind offerings of strangers

B.C. files second legal challenge against Alberta over turn-off-taps law

B.C. government filed a second lawsuit against Alberta on June 14

Tax credits, penalizing big polluters, key to Conservative climate plan

Canada’s commitment is to cut emissions to 70 per cent of what they were in 2005 before 2030

Victoria double murder trial: Blood splatter analyst found no shoe prints on scene

RCMP analyst testifies to smears, fingermarks, ‘swipe and wipe’ patterns around apartment

Elias Pettersson wins Calder Trophy as NHL’s top rookie

Vancouver forward first Canuck to win award since Pavel Bure in 1992

FVRD chair calls B.C. incineration plan for Philippines waste ‘disturbing’

Metro Vancouver ‘uniquely capable’ of safely disposing of waste coming back to Canada, say officials

Most Read