How the Shutdown Will Continue to Affect Travel

Jan 26, 2019

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A deal has been reached to end the US government shutdown, at least for the next three weeks. Friday’s air traffic control issues at LaGuardia, which led to widespread delays all across the Northeast and as far away as Atlanta, showed how quickly the US aviation system can fall apart when it’s understaffed. The issues sparked what seemed to be a quick deal to reopen the government only hours after the FAA issued an LGA groundstop.

While the temporary three-week timeframe is long enough to hopefully allow a smooth Super Bowl travel week, how soon should we expect to see things return to normal for ATC, TSA and the FAA?

A spokesperson for the FAA tells TPG via email that, “The FAA remains focused on maintaining the safety of our National Airspace System. We are grateful for our many dedicated professionals and their service throughout the lapse of funding. Over the coming days and weeks, the agency will assess immediate post-shutdown needs, prioritize those needs, and deploy the appropriate resources to address those needs.” While the FAA works to clear its backlog of items, some much anticipated events will still be delayed.

Delta’s inaugural flight of the A220 will still be delayed. Delta is currently hoping that the first flight of its much anticipated new aircraft will now take place on Feb. 7. The flight was originally set to get airborne on Jan. 31.

Flight operations from Paine Field have been pushed back even further by Alaska Airlines. They are now looking at commercial flights starting on March 4. Alaska had originally scheduled commercial operations to begin Feb. 11.

Even Southwest’s Hawaii service will most likely still be delayed. The airline’s CEO referred to the shutdown as “maddening” on an earnings call earlier this week. The company said that once the FAA is back to work it could take anywhere from six weeks to two months to finalize the certification for Hawaii flights. The airline had originally planned to have tickets on sale some time next week and planes operating flights as soon as February. Now, it looks like those flights wouldn’t be departing until sometime in late March or April at the earliest.

For the TSA and ATC the end of the shutdown should have a more immediate effect for travelers. Issues with staffing that led to Friday’s meltdown should no longer be a problem. That’s assuming those long delayed paychecks go out to employees quickly. It’s worth noting that during the shutdown, TSA did manage for the most part to keep security checkpoints open and screening times reasonable, although there were sporadic issues in the system. The use of the National Deployment Force — a group of agents sent to assist during peak demand — allowed TSA for the most part to keep things moving smoothly for travelers, even while up to 10% of its workforce was absent.

One blip on the radar, however, seems to be at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). In a statement released yesterday, officials at IAH said that the Terminal B TSA checkpoint will remain closed until further notice. Flights are operating out of Terminal B as normal, but travelers will have to access airside via another security checkpoint.

Outside of aviation, other federally funded institutions will be coming back as well. The Smithsonian, which has reportedly lost $1 million per week during the shutdown, will reopen at its normal hours on Jan. 29. The National Park Service — which has seen significant issues during the shutdown — issued the following statement (although the NPS website currently still displays a shutdown notice on the home page):

“Visitors should contact individual parks or visit park websites for their opening schedules and the latest information on accessibility and visitor services. Some parks which have been closed throughout the lapse in appropriations may not reopen immediately, but we will work to open all parks as quickly as possible.”

It remains to be seen if the reopening of the US government will last beyond the current three-week window. We will be keeping an eye on the situation in the coming days and weeks.

This post has been updated as of 11:15am on 01/26/19.

Featured Photo by by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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