Nation & World

Aviation industry watches for signs of trouble

But so far, wait times have not increased significantly by shutdown

Chicago Tribune/TNS

Transportation Security Administration agents check people through security at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Monday.
Chicago Tribune/TNS Transportation Security Administration agents check people through security at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Monday.

The Transportation Security Administration has not seen a significant uptick in airport screening wait times, the agency said Monday, as concerns mount about the potential for disruption to the country’s air travel system due to the federal government shutdown now in its third week.

The TSA screened 2.2 million passengers across the country Sunday, with 99.8 percent waiting less than 30 minutes, according to spokesman Michael Bilello.

Nine out of 10 passengers were screened in less than 15 minutes, with average wait times for Precheck lanes of less than five minutes, he said.

The latest numbers came after a flurry of news reports on Friday and over the weekend about increasing numbers of TSA workers calling in sick as they continue to work without pay during the shutdown.

So far, that hasn’t had a noticeable impact on airport wait times, but officials with the union representing TSA workers have expressed concern the issue could worsen this week as employees miss their first paycheck since the shutdown began.

TSA workers and air traffic controllers are among the employees deemed essential by the government during the shutdown, meaning they’re required to continue showing up for work. The employees are expected to be compensated for the hours worked, but that likely won’t happen until the government is reopened.

Unions representing airline employees also have weighed in to voice their concerns, with the Air Line Pilots Association warning in a letter last week that the shutdown is “adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.”

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The Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the Allied Pilots Association, which collectively represent more than 40,000 American Airlines workers, also issued calls Monday to resolve the shutdown.

The TSA has maintained that security standards and effectiveness will not be compromised during the shutdown.

Unions representing air traffic controllers and Customs and Border Protection workers said they had not seen a noticeable increase in employees calling in sick.

Outside the TSA, the shutdown is impacting other parts of the airline industry. The Air Line Pilots Association letter said that Federal Aviation Administration oversight activities could be affected by the furlough of FAA inspectors.

American Airlines said Monday it is unable to put two recently delivered planes into service while awaiting FAA approvals.

And Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly suggested last week that the shutdown could delay the company’s launch of service to Hawaii. Southwest is in the midst of a months-long process with the FAA to certify its aircraft and procedures for extended operation over water.

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