How A Government Shutdown Will Impact Travel

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Whether you agree with it or not, it looks like a government shutdown is becoming more and more of a possibility. If it happens there will be far-reaching effects, including thousands of government workers furloughed- many of whom who support the travel industry in one way or another. That’s because the government is involved in everything from security and air traffic control to access to national parks and more.

Since the 1970’s, the government has shutdown a total of 17 times. The last time the government shut down, in 1995, it lasted three weeks – the longest on record. Nearly 300,000 government employees were furloughed and almost half a million went without a paycheck until being reimbursed later after the resolution.

What will a government shutdown mean for travelers?
What will a government shutdown mean for travelers?

Luckily, agencies and departments that the US Treasury does not directly fund will remain operational (though there’s no telling if they’ll be at full capacity) and “essential” positions such as the FBI, TSA, border control and air traffic control will remain on duty, even if there is a shutdown. However, they might not be paid until the government reopens for business, and there’s no telling what the ramifications of that will be,but I wouldn’t expect TSA agents to be friendlier than normal! (Though to be fair, the TSA agents working Pre-Check in NYC and Miami recently have been more than friendly to me).

Just to confirm the situation and see what the TSA expects to happen in the case of a government shutdown, I Tweeted Ross Feinstein, the Press Secretary for the TSA @TSAMedia_RossF to ask him how a government shutdown would affect the Transportation Security Administration and here’s what he had to say:

Screen shot 2013-09-29 at 8.13.36 PMThe most interesting facts I got out of it from him were that, “the majority of our officers who screen passengers/luggage will remain on the job,” and when I asked if the TSA was anticipating longer wait times at airports for security screening in the case of a shutdown, he responded, “TBD, but since the majority of our front line staff is essential, I don’t think so.”

He also confirmed that in the case of a shutdown, employees would remain at work, though they would not be paid until Congress approved a new funding plan.

The bottom line is, this could be bad news not only for the economy and taxpayers, but also for travelers in terms of some inconveniences but not security. That said, there’s no telling how long this one will last or if there will be consequences we haven’t seen before. However, if you have some travel plans coming up, you should be paying attention to how this all unfolds.

And in terms of travel specifically, there are two different ways a shutdown will affect your plans.

Delays in Visa and Passport Processing

Technically passports and visas are financed by fees, so a shutdown shouldn’t affect processing times. However, back during the last government shutdown in the 1990’s, hundreds of thousands of passports simply weren’t processed until the government opened back up again for business. Passport offices that are located in government buildings that are closed due to the shutdown will obviously not be able to process any applications. Basically I would expect processing times to increase dramatically, so if you need a passport or visa, I’d apply ASAP.

Museum and National Park Closures

The people who keep our national parks open and safe, as well as those who work in national museums, are government employees, and while some might remain open in the case of a government shutdown, most government-run parks and museums will close their gates and doors to visitors while the crisis lasts, so grab your camping supplies and head out to the wilderness now if you want to get in one last outdoor adventure, or head into museums now if you want to check out some of the masters before a shutdown closes the museums.

So overall, hopefully travel won’t be affected too badly, but anything is possible.

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