The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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How the Government Shutdown Affected Travelers
When the "partial" government shutdown began on December 22, 2018, most observers expected it to be short. It dragged on for 35 days, the longest in U.S. history. While the shutdown was partial, it had a disproportionate effect on travel. The TSA was hit, meaning airport security screeners were asked to work without pay. Ditto air traffic controllers--and, in the end, a shortage of controllers helped lead to the end of the shutdown. The FAA also ran in gray mode, which meant aircraft and airports weren't inspected. The National Transportation Safety Board was also shut. Here is how we covered it. Read up from the bottom for the context.
NOT WITH A BANG ...
Now that the partial government shutdown has ended--Congress passed and the President signed legislation yesterday--the TSA has gone dark. No more checkpoint wait-time statistics. But in their place are horrific delay numbers after the air traffic controller shortage. At New York/LaGuardia, where there was a ground stop in the morning, 45 percent of Friday's flights were delayed. A third of Newark's flights were late. About a third of flights at O'Hare were delayed, too, but that was weather related. (The numbers were provided by FlightAware.com.) And so it ends, not with a big bang, but with a number of delayed flights as the FAA struggled to cope with a shortage of controllers. But consider this last little tidbit from a report in Politico.com: More than 1,700 TSA agents have resigned since the shutdown started in December.
1/25/19, 12:45PM ET, FRIDAY
AIRPORTS AND OPTICS
As reports intensify that an imminent end to the partial government shutdown is at hand, CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports that pictures of delays at Newark, New York/LGA and Philadelphia airports this morning rocked President Trump. Already reeling from a decision to bow to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the State of the Union Address and having seen six Senate Republicans defect to a Democratic bill to end the shutdown, Zeleny says that Trump watched the crowds and chaos at the airports today and realized he might have lost the optics battle. Stay tuned ...
1/25/19, 12:30PM ET, FRIDAY
DELAYS PILE UP IN THE EAST
The FAA has ended the ground stop at New York/LaGuardia (see below) and flights are taking off and landing again, but delays have piled up. According to the FAA map of current conditions, there are 86-minute delays on arrivals at LGA. Gate holds at Atlanta/Hartsfield range from 31 to 45 minutes "and [are] increasing." At Newark, there are 61-minute delays on arrival due to what the FAA categorizes as "weather/winds."
1/25/19, 10:30AM ET, FRIDAY
GROUND STOP AT LGA AS FAA CLAIMS AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER SHORTAGE
The FAA says a shortage of air traffic controllers is causing a mess of flight delays around the East this morning. FAA officials say the lack of controllers--they've been working without pay for 35 days and miss a second pay period today--is forcing the agency to add time to flight arrivals and departures. It has initiated a ground stop at LaGuardia Airport in New York and is scrutinizing traffic flows at Newark and Atlanta. The FAA says that at least two ATC stations are short-staffed.
1/25/19, 10:30AM ET, FRIDAY
TSA DELAYS TICKED UP ON THURSDAY
As we head into another weekend of travel, the waiting times at airports around the country are ticking up again. According to today's TSA data dump for travel on Thursday, six airports reported double-digit delays at PreCheck lines. It's worse at general security lines. Once again, Atlanta/Hartsfield led the pack with 42-minute delays followed by Baltimore/Washington (37). Four more airports registered delays of 25 or more minutes and four others reported 20-minute or longer delays. Nine more airports were at the 18- or 19-minute mark. Of 42 airports covered in the TSA statistics, 36 reported general security delays of 10 or more minutes.
1/24/19, 11PM ET, THURSDAY
DIRECT ACTION TO AID UNPAID TSA WORKERS
This from a JoeSentMe member: "Attempted to deliver grocery store gift cards to TSA employee at Palm Springs Airport today. The supervisor indicated they couldn't accept them. Apparently TSA workers at John Wayne/Orange County can, but not Palm Springs. So I asked for a union rep. He said it was okay as long as I met him curbside. Apparently a donation to the union is okay. Everyone gave me a big hug and there were tears. The good news? They told me flyers are less hostile about the routine of removing liquids and electronics and apologetic about the TSA workers' plight. The supervisor shared that several agents resigned their positions this week."
1/24/19, 7:30PM ET, THURSDAY
SOUTHWEST SAYS HAWAII LAUNCH DELAYED BY FAA INACTION
Southwest Airlines says it, too, has been impacted by FAA inaction during the shutdown. Its plans to launch flights to Hawaii from the West Coast during the first quarter are now almost surely off. During its fourth-quarter earnings call today (January 24), Southwest executives now say they hope to get flights running sometime in the second quarter. The Hawaii launch is delayed because the FAA did not complete Southwest's ETOPS certification before the shutdown. Without the approval to fly its twin-engine Boeing 737s on longer overwater routes, Southwest can't begin Hawaii operations.
1/24/19, 11:30AM ET, THURSDAY
SILVER SECURITY LININGS
As nationwide TSA agent "sick-out" calls continue to edge up--they are now consistently over 7 percent a day--it must be said that yesterday wasn't the worst day to fly since the government shutdown began. Wednesdays are usually slack travel days, of course, but we've got to take the silver security linings where we can find them. With the notable exception of Detroit/Metro, where a nasty ice storm shut down airport operations for hours on Wednesday morning, checkpoint wait times nationwide were down a bit. Usual suspects--Atlanta (29 minutes), Newark (20), Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando (22 minutes) and Minneapolis (24)--were somewhat less annoying. Three airports (Baltimore/Washington, Dallas/Fort Worth and West Palm Beach) had 10-minute delays at PreCheck lines. Honolulu had 12-minute delays at PreCheck and 24-minute delays in general security lines. By the way, the 78-minutes waits in general security lines at Detroit/Metro yesterday were the worst since last week's meltdown at Atlanta/Hartsfield, when the TSA says delays were 88 minutes but airport officials admitted exceeded two hours. But beware weekends: Since TSA agents aren't being paid--and will miss a second check tomorrow--it's no surprise that sick-out rates and airport wait times have ballooned on weekends during the shutdown.
1/24/19, 11AM ET, THURSDAY
THE SHUTDOWN AND LOST AIRLINE REVENUE
What is the partial government shutdown costing the airlines? It's hard to track, but U.S. carriers are beginning to speak out. Delta Air Lines said last week that the shutdown is depriving it of $25 million a month in bookings. Southwest Airlines said today that the shutdown has cost it $10-15 million so far in January. And at its fourth-quarter earnings call today, American Airlines executives also bemoaned the cost of the shutdown, but refused to put a price tag on the lost revenue.
1/24/19, 10:30AM ET, THURSDAY
'THE ENTIRE [AIRLINE] SYSTEM WILL BREAK' IF SHUTDOWN CONTINUES
This can't be good no matter what you think about the government shutdown, politics or unions. The heads of the National Air Traffic Controllers, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants issued a stark warning about the fraying safety margin in the skies during the shutdown. "In our risk-averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break," they wrote. "It is unprecedented." The Hill.com has complete details. Politico.com also has coverage.
1/24/19, 9:15AM ET, THURSDAY
COMMERCE SECRETARY ROSS SAYS LET THEM WAIT ON CAKE LINES
Wilbur Ross, the rich Commerce Secretary who consistently lies because he wants to appear even richer, admits that he's befuddled by federal workers going to food banks as they face a second pay period without a paycheck. "I don't really quite understand why" workers are waiting on the 21st-century equivalent of breadlines. He clearly thinks they should be waiting on cake lines ...
1/24/19, 8:15AM ET, THURSDAY
GOOD NEWS FROM THE AIRPORT FRONT
As explained in today's Brancatelli File, there are some bright spots at the airport as the partial government shutdown plows into its second month. From a JoeSentMe member: "Just finishing a trip--Yuma, Tucson, Phoenix, Denver--and the security lines were not long. TSA agents at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport helped me find my missing wristwatch. [They] took the time and couldn't have been nicer. "
1/23/19, 8:15PM ET, WEDNESDAY
TSA CALLS FOR VOLUNTEERS TO FILL AIRPORT GAPS
The TSA is scrambling to keep airport checkpoints staffed, according to CNN aviation reporter Rene Marsh. The agency's existing back-up teams already have been assigned and an E-mail from TSA bosses this week put out an urgent call for hundreds of additional staffers to fly to cities where airports are most thinly covered. The volunteers, CNN speculates, would come from airports that haven't faced strain from "sick-outs" in order to help airports that have. All this comes as TSA agents are working without pay and will miss their second paycheck on Friday. Many are relying on food banks and donations from others to make ends meet.
1/23/19, 11:45AM ET, WEDNESDAY
AIRPORT WAIT TIMES CONTINUE TO GROW
No good news from the newest dump of TSA numbers for security wait times at 42 of the nation's busiest airports. At least seven airports experienced PreCheck wait times north of 10 minutes yesterday (Tuesday). On general lines, there were waits of 41 minutes in Atlanta, 42 minutes in Boston, 29 minutes in Seattle/Tacoma and 28 minutes at Newark. Atlanta/Hartsfield PreCheck wait times--19 minutes--were the worst in the nation although Washington/Dulles (16 minutes) wasn't far behind.
1/22/19, 4:15PM ET, TUESDAY
ESCAPE FROM ATLANTA. MAYBE.
Atlanta/Hartsfield is already the busiest airport in the nation. Hartsfield also has among the longest wait times for security. (Remember the meltdown last week when some travelers waited two hours or more?) Add the fans, extra flights and private jets headed to Atlanta for the Super Bowl on February 3 and a growing "sick-out" of TSA agents and we have a recipe for total travel disaster. The Atlanta Journal Constitution covers the frenzied preparation for the crowds and discusses the ultimate flashpoint: the day after the game when everyone will be trying to escape Atlanta. It could get very ugly.
1/22/19, 3:15PM ET, TUESDAY
SHUTDOWN SHUTS DOWN PAINE FIELD DEBUT
As we warned several weeks ago in Tactical Traveler, the partial government shutdown is about more than checkpoint security lines and unpaid Customs inspectors and air traffic controllers. The FAA is hobbled, too, and that has scuppered the plans of Alaska Airlines to launch flights next month from Paine Field north of Seattle. The newly renovated airport was scheduled to begin operation on February 11 and Alaska Air was due to be the prime operator, with flights to Portland, Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, John Wayne/Orange County and San Francisco. But with the FAA sidelined, required inspections and certifications have not been completed. Alaska Airlines now says flight launches are delayed and will begin between March 4 and March 12. Of course even those dates require the FAA to get up and running sooner rather than later.
1/22/19, 12:15PM ET, TUESDAY
CHECKPOINT LINES LENGTHEN NATIONWIDE
The numbers at TSA checkpoints around the nation's airports continue to be discouraging. The latest batch, for travel on Monday, January 21, show that four airports had general security delays north of 30 minutes. Three other airports had delays of 25 minutes or more. And 11 more had delays of 20 minutes or more. Worse, eight airports reported that PreCheck lines on Monday exceeded 10 minutes of waiting time. Worst offender nationwide? Minneapolis/St. Paul, with 46-minute general delays. Not far behind was Newark, with 40-minute delays. At Baltimore/Washington, where security lines at Checkpoint A were closed due to staffing shortages, the delays were 36 minutes. All 42 of the airports covered by the TSA statistics had double-digit security delays.
1/21/19, 11:15AM ET, MONDAY
'SICK-OUT' RATES HIS 10 PERCENT NATIONWIDE
Wow, just wow. The TSA said today that the official sick-out rate on Sunday jumped to 10 percent compared to just 3.1 percent on a similar day in 2018. That's not only the highest absentee number since the partial government shutdown began a month ago, it is also a harbinger of what's to come. TSA agents--and air traffic controllers and Customs inspectors--will miss a second paycheck on Friday. That can only mean more government employees calling out because they can't continue to work without compensation. New Orleans Airport had the dubious honor of the longest waiting time (45 minutes) for general security checkpoints. Minneapolis/St. Paul reported 35-minute waits and the wait time at New York/LaGuardia was 29 minutes. The thinnest of silver linings? Only two airports--Minneapolis and Honolulu--reported PreCheck line wait times of 10 minutes or longer.
1/20/19, 5:15PM ET, SUNDAY
THE STRAINS BEGIN TO SHOW AT THE AIRPORT
This is scary: TSA "sick-outs" hit 8 percent yesterday (Saturday), the highest rate since the partial government shutdown began. That's what the TSA itself is copping to. Meanwhile, TSA sources tell CBS News' Kris Van Cleve that there are now serious staffing issues at the New York airports--Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy--as well as Miami, Chicago/O'Hare, Atlanta and Houston/Intercontinental. And TSA numbers reported today for Saturday travel seem to support it. General security wait times at Atlanta (29 minutes), Newark (25), Miami (22), IAH (19) and the New York airports (LGA and JFK, both north of 15 minutes) continue to lengthen. Also troubling: 41 minutes at Minneapolis/St. Paul, 29 minutes at Seattle and 27 minutes at San Francisco. Five airports--BWI, Honolulu, LGA, MSP and SEA--also report double-digit wait times at PreCheck lines. And, of course, BWI Checkpoint A remains closed after being shuttered last evening due to TSA staffing issues.
1/20/19, 5PM ET, SUNDAY
NEW YORK AND NEW ENGLAND GET THEIR SCHEDULES ICED
As of 5pm today, FlightAware says there have been about 1,600 cancellations in the United States and about 2,700 delays. The upstate New York and New England areas have borne the brunt of the cancellations. Boston/Logan had about 60 percent of its schedule scrubbed and more than 80 percent of the flights into and out of Albany, New York, were cancelled. Bradley International in Hartford lost about half of its flights. Airports such as Syracuse and Rochester in New York were also largely out of business. JetBlue Airways again was the worst performer among major jet carriers, cancelling about 41 percent of its schedule. Otherwise, it was the commuter carriers of the major airlines that were most affected by the snow and ice that whacked the East Coast.
After the snow, rain and ice yesterday, there were 2,100+ cancellations and 3,600+ delays in the United States, according to FlightAware. Worst hit: Chicago/O'Hare, where more than 50 percent of departures and 40 percent of arrivals were dumped. JetBlue Airways dropped about a third of its schedule nationwide. Commuter airlines for the major carriers had most of the other cancellations.
1/19/19, 7PM ET, SATURDAY
TSA BOSSES SAY 'DON'T MENTION THE WAR'
It continues to be sad--and fascinating--to watch the federal bureaucracy dance around the reality of TSA officers not showing up for work because they can't afford not to be paid. If it wasn't so serious, you'd think it was a particularly hilarious sketch from Fawlty Towers.
It began weeks ago with name-calling and defiant denial when Homeland Security spokesman/human dumpster fire Tyler Q. Houlton screamed "fake news" at reports of growing TSA sick-outs. When that convinced no one, TSA published the "calls outs" and airport security wait times, a tacit admission that the news was all too real. But then TSA Administrator David Pekoske this week excoriated anyone calling it a "sick-out" because, he said, agents weren't calling in sick but staying home because they could not afford to work without pay. (Which, of course, is what the media have repeatedly explained since the shutdown began nearly a month ago.)
CNN now reports that the TSA is telling its regional officials what they can't say vis-a-vis the manpower shortage. Although it releases a national average of employee call outs (see chart), TSA bosses won't allow airport-level administrators to cop to problems at their particular facilities. That's incredibly stupid because it doesn't take much to see when and where there are issues. At least four airports in the last week had to close some security checkpoints. Plus TSA has admitted that back-up swat teams have flown to Washington/Dulles and Newark to shore up understaffed airports. And today TSA was forced to announce it was closing Checkpoint A at Baltimore/Washington due to a manpower shortage there.
1/19/19, 4PM ET, SATURDAY
TODAY'S TRAVEL WEATHER IS GETTING UGLY FAST
Today is getting ugly fast as snow, rain and ice are spreading from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Ohio Valley into the Great Lakes and New England. The result? More than 2,200 cancellations nationwide at 3:30pm Eastern time, according to FlightAware.com. More than 40 percent of flights at Chicago/O'Hare have been wiped out. About a quarter of scheduled flights at Boston already have been wiped. New York/JFK and Baltimore/Washington have lost about 15 percent of their flights. So far, JetBlue Airways has cancelled nearly 300 flights, about a third of its schedule. Southwest Airlines dumped nearly 10 percent of flight ops. American Airlines has cancelled 4 percent of its mainland flights (about 130), but, as usual, its commuter operators are running for cover. Envoy and Piedmont, two key American Eagle flight operators, have each already cancelled about 20 percent of their schedules. Air Wisconsin, a United Express commuter airline, has erased nearly half its flights. It's only likely to get worse from here as the Northeast and Midwest hubs get hit the hardest in the evening and overnight hours. Tomorrow, Sunday, is likely to be a tricky day to fly and all airlines are out with a variety of travel waivers. If you can reschedule, choose wisely, as the old knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade suggested.
1/19/19, 2:30PM ET, SATURDAY
THE KINDNESS OF AIRPORT STRANGERS (CONTINUED)
More airports and airport-related businesses are stepping up to help TSA agents and other government employees working without pay. Here's the latest:
BALTIMORE/WASHINGTON: Drop off non-perishable items at Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Police Station. It's located on the lower level near Door 14. Hours are 9am to 5pm.
PHILADELPHIA: Drop items at Interactive Employee Training Center located next to the Airport Communications Center at Terminal C on Departures Road. Hours are 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday. Besides non-perishable food, the site is collecting dog and cat food; diapers, wipes, baby food and formula; gift cards for grocery stores and gasoline stations; and hygiene and feminine products.
OAKLAND: The Alameda County Community Food Bank has set up bins in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 landside. The bins are accepting non-perishable donations.
1/19/19, 11:30AM ET, SATURDAY
AIRPORT NUMBERS ARE GETTING DISCOURAGING
A new batch of statistics for TSA airport operations are in and numbers are discouraging, to say the least. As we predicted, the longer the shutdown continues and the longer TSA agents are asked to work without pay, the more difficult conditions are getting. The "sick-out" rate yesterday (Friday) hit 7 percent, more than double the similar Friday in 2018. All but one of the 42 airports for which TSA provided statistics registered double-digit wait times on general security lines. Four airports--Atlanta, Newark, Denver and Seattle-Tacoma--were north of 30 minutes. Six more airports--Detroit, Dallas/Fort Worth, Las Vegas, New York/LaGuardia, Miami and Minneapolis/St. Paul--reported general security wait times longer than 25 minutes. A slew of airports now have double-digit waits at PreCheck lines, too, including MSP (18); Atlanta (16 minutes); Austin, Baltimore/Washington and DFW (14); Houston/Intercontinental (13); and Seattle, Washington/Dulles and LaGuardia (12).
1/19/19, 10:30AM ET, SATURDAY
MEMBERS SAY: NO BAD TSA DELAYS SO FAR
Good news from the front: Two JoeSentMe members report no delays yesterday (Friday) even though they departed from airports--New York/LaGuardia and Baltimore/Washington--where TSA statistics show wait times are increasing. "We flew from BWI to San Francisco ... and it was business as usual, with no unusual delays," one reported. "I've yet to experience one minute of delays at TSA in the past two weeks," the other says. "I was nervous about delays at LaGuardia, but there were none." Both members say they see lots of travelers thanking TSA agents for their service and, as one reports, "the agents seem to enjoy the appreciation."
1/18/19, 12:30PM ET, FRIDAY
THESE STATISTICS ARE CONCERNING
Time to be concerned. New TSA statistics for security conditions reveal that lines lengthened yesterday (Thursday). Of the 42 listed airports, 39 now report general security waits of at least 10 minutes. Atlanta (47 minutes), Minneapolis/St. Paul (36), Seattle (31) and Newark (29) were yesterday's most troublesome spots at general security lines. Five other airports--ATL, BWI, LGA, ORD and SEA--had double-digit waits at PreCheck lines. Nationwide, 6.4 percent of employees were absent.
1/17/19, 9PM ET, THURSDAY
HERE COMES THE BOOM
Since the partial government shutdown began just before Christmas, travel generally has been in a lull. Business travel is mostly absent and leisure travel, at best, is sporadic in January. In other words, for good or bad, the airports haven't been strained to capacity as the nation's TSA agents, air traffic controllers and Customs inspectors have been required to work while missing paychecks.
But it all begins to change in the days ahead and that's sure to put further pressure on TSA checkpoints and Customs stations.
For starters, there's the weather: If forecasts are accurate, it will be bad. Snow, heavy at times, is forecast starting on Friday, January 18, and lasting through the weekend for a huge swathe of the country from the Upper Midwest to the East Coast. That will put a hit on hubs in crucial cities such as Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Newark and Boston. TSA agents are already working without pay and have missed at least one paycheck. How interested do you think they'll be to schlep through the snow to get to their posts? And how many more won't be able to report for work because schools will close and there's no money to pay for child care?
Then there's the first notable three-day travel period of the year: Martin Luther King Day Weekend. Traffic will pick up on Friday and leisure flyers who have less on-the-road experience will clog checkpoints. More strain.
Let's jump ahead two weeks to the Super Bowl, scheduled for Atlanta on February 3. Atlanta/Hartsfield has already buckled once since the shutdown. On Monday, checkpoint wait times officially reached 88 minutes but were longer than two hours, according to ATL's general manager. And, broadly speaking, ATL has had the longest daily wait times since the shutdown began. Super Bowl weekend always puts a boom on the airport in the host city, especially on the day after the game, when revelers all try to leave at the same time. In fact, NBC News reports air traffic controllers are worried about the impact of 1,500 additional flights--most of them corporate and private jets--on the Atlanta-area system as the controllers continue to work without pay, too.
If we're still in a shutdown by February 3 and the nation's busiest airport buckles under the added strain of Super Bowl crowds, we are in for ugly, ugly, ugly times ...
1/17/19, 4:30PM ET, THURSDAY
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS AT THE AIRPORT
As the government shutdown drags on, some federal employees are missing paychecks yet are still required to work. That includes TSA agents, Customs inspectors, air traffic controllers and other line employees who make travel possible. Since many work paycheck-to-paycheck, however, funds are running low. The good news? There are strangers stepping up. Both CBS News and ABC News report on how unpaid government employees at airports are getting free meals and groceries to help tide them over. But it's not just the kindness of strangers. JoeSentMe member Carey Harveycutter took matters into his own hands this week. As he explains it, he "took fried chicken, potato salad, slaws, rolls, cookies for lunch to the TSA" screeners at Roanoke, his local airport. "No pictures," Carey adds. "I do not want anyone to get into trouble ... They are good folks and deserve to be paid."
1/17/19, 4PM ET, THURSDAY
THANKS, TSA ...
Our friend, Will Allen, says thanks to the TSA checkpoint screeners for working without pay during the shutdown. "Are they perfect? Hell, no! [But] during this painful shutdown period, why donít we show them a little love?"
1/17/19, 3:30PM ET, THURSDAY
A ROSE (OR A "SICK-OUT") BY ANY OTHER NAME ...
Federal flacks started the year by trashing any reporter who dared suggest that there was a shortage of TSA agents. "Fake news," right wing hack turned Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton raged after CNN first broke the story on January 4. Houlton has not been heard from again--thank heavens for small mercies--and the TSA itself has begun daily reporting of "unscheduled absences" among the rank-and-file. If TSA numbers are to believed (see chart), so-called sick-outs have reached 7.7 percent of the estimated 51,000 TSA employees on some days.
But now the TSA doesn't want anyone calling them "sick-out" calls. (The TSA has been using the previously unknown term "call out.") "It's not a sick-out, officers aren't pretending to be sick," protests TSA Administrator David Pekoske. "They are saying they cannot afford to work for free any longer."
Pekoske is correct, of course, the increasing number of, um, absences is not a "sick-out" in the classic sense. As we have explained for days on this page and on Twitter, TSA agents (and Customs inspectors) are not working because they can't afford to work without scheduled compensation. Many work paycheck-to-paycheck and others can't pay for child care now that there's no money coming in. But calling it a "sick-out" is not a pejorative term, as Pekoske implies. It is universally understood jargon for when an employee chooses not to work.
The problem isn't what we're calling it, Administrator Pekoske. The problem is that TSA agents and Customs agents aren't being paid while politicians argue (or don't even talk) about the partial government shutdown. The pols, of course, are being paid. Like bosses, the pols always get theirs even while rank-and-filers are asked to make the sacrifices.
1/17/19, 2:30PM ET, THURSDAY
ARE TSA 'SICK-OUTS' THE KEY TO THE SHUTDOWN?
As the shutdown drags on with no end in sight--and no talks of note on tap--politicians are speculating about an outside force that could be brought to bear. And the speculation all seems to focus on the TSA agents who've stayed at their airport posts since before Christmas without pay. "Couple senior Republican lawmakers tell me the only way this breaks open is if TSA employees stay home and Americans get furious about their flights," tweeted Robert Costa, well-connected political reporter of The Washington Post and host of PBS' Washington Week. Natalie Andrews, Congressional reporter at The Wall Street Journal tweeted that she heard the same thing from Senator Jon Tester. If the TSA walked off the job, "the shutdown would end the next day," she said the Montana Democrat believes.
1/17/19, 12:30PM ET, THURSDAY
THE LINES ARE LENGTHENING AT TSA CHECKPOINTS NATIONWIDE
Another day, another TSA statistics dump about airport conditions. Sick-out calls nationwide seem to have stabilized at around 6 percent, but checkpoint lines do seem to be getting longer. According to today's figures for traffic yesterday (Wednesday), Atlanta/Hartsfield continues to be the nation's trouble spot: 39-minute waits on general lines and 10-minute waits on PreCheck lines. But there are warning signs everywhere. Of the 42 airports covered by the TSA statistics, all but two report double-digit wait times in general security lines. Eight report waits of 20 minutes or more. Seventeen more report general waiting times of 15 or more minutes. Four airports--Atlanta, New York/LaGuardia, Orlando and Seattle/Tacoma--show double-digit waits in PreCheck lines. By the way, the TSA considers all this "normal," since its standard for quality service is a wait of 30 minutes in a general checkpoint line and a 10-minute wait in a PreCheck line. I'd complain about that very low bar--and have in the past--but it's hard to bitch when the poor souls going through our carry-on bags and patting us down aren't even getting paid.
1/16/19, 12:30PM ET, WEDNESDAY
TUESDAY? A MIXED BAG AT THE AIRPORTS
The second batch of TSA numbers, covering airport operations on Tuesday, was a decidedly mixed bag. Nationwide, the sick-out rate fell a bit to 6.1 percent compared to Monday, but it's still far above the 3.7 percent "unscheduled absence" rate on the comparable Tuesday in 2018. On a more granular level, there is reason for concern: Of the 42 airports covered by the TSA report, 16 reported general security wait times of 20 minutes or more. The worst offender? Newark, with 36 minutes of waiting on average. At Atlanta/Hartsfield, where wait times ballooned to nearly two hours on Monday, the average wait was reported at 25 minutes on Tuesday. Especially notable? TSeattle/Tacoma, Miami and Honolulu each reported double-digit wait times at PreCheck lines. Yesterday's "best" airport? Boston/Logan. It reported wait times of seven minutes on general lines and three minutes on PreCheck lines. (An update: TSA issued "revised" numbers after it released this morning's batch of statistics. I have chosen to stick with the TSA's original statistics for Tuesday travel.)
1/16/19, 12:15PM ET, WEDNESDAY
ANATOMY OF A MELTDOWN AT ATLANTA/HARTSFIELD
The security meltdown at Atlanta/Hartsfield on Monday got an autopsy on Wednesday morning by airport general manager John Selden. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Selden explained that only 18 of the 27 available checkpoints were open at the sprawling airport. Wait times at TSA checkpoints on Monday were "a little plus two hours," he explained, notably above the 88 minutes reported by TSA statistics. On Monday evening, the TSA flew in 20 checkpoint agents to help with the crowds. (No one, not the Atlanta-based agents nor those flown in, are being paid, of course.)
But Selden went beyond the autopsy and is clearly worried about the next several weeks at Hartsfield as the shutdown drags on. This weekend, he notes, there will be larger crowds due to the Martin Luther King holiday. And the NFL's Super Bowl will be played in Atlanta on Sunday, February 3. That'll stress the airport throughout the week in the run-up to the game, but will really create a crush on Monday, February 4, when most travelers will depart. Selden says the TSA is planning to bring 120 additional checkpoint officials and 12 more K-9 teams. "That will be a very challenging morning," Selden explained.
1/15/19, 9PM ET, TUESDAY
IS THE SYSTEM SAFE? YES, BUT ...
Is the nation's air travel system safe more than three weeks after the beginning of the partial government shutdown? Yes, but the margin of safety is fraying. That's the conclusion of several interested parties in a story appearing in today's editions of The Washington Post. "Can we survive this for long? That's a question I don't want to answer," said Andrew LeBovidge, southwest regional vice president of the air traffic controllers union. Meanwhile, FAA documents released Tuesday show the agency has recalled more than 3,400 workers. Those FAA employees had been furloughed, but are now acknowledged to be vital for protecting "life and safety."
1/15/19, 7PM ET, TUESDAY
JUDGE TELLS 'ESSENTIAL' EMPLOYEES TO KEEP WORKING
A federal district judge has ruled against the air traffic controllers union and other government labor groups. District Judge Richard J. Leon in Washington refused to grant temporary restraining orders that would bar the Trump Administration from requiring "essential" employees to work without pay. Leon said granting the TROs would "create chaos and confusion" in the country during the shutdown. Politico.com has additional details of the judge's ruling.
1/15/19, 4PM ET, TUESDAY
OTHER STUFF THE SHUTDOWN MAY BE DELAYING
It's natural that attention during the shutdown has been on TSA lines and Customs queues, but the partial government closure does have other, longer-term effects. Here is some of the beyond-the-airport impact:
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES says that its plan to launch flights to Hawaii early this year will be delayed because the FAA is not working to approve its ETOPS application. Southwest needs that certification to fly two-engine jets over water for sufficient periods to reach Hawaii from the U.S. West Coast. USA Today has more details.
AMERICAN AIRLINES says that two factory-fresh Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are sitting in its Tulsa maintenance facility awaiting FAA certification. Reuters notes the backup without irony, but let's never forget: American's MAX aircraft are universally despised because of the awful seats, lack of legroom and minuscule lavatories. Fewer AA MAX planes in the skies is better.
DELTA AIR LINES says that it probably will miss its published launch date of its Airbus A220 aircraft. Same issue, of course: Without a working FAA to certify the planes, they can't fly. Formerly known as the Bombardier C Series, the 100-seat aircraft were first delivered to Delta in October. The plane was expected to go into commercial service in late January. Delta CEO Ed Bastian says that timeframe seems unlikely.
1/15/19, 10AM ET, TUESDAY
TSA RELEASES A FLOOD OF STATISTICS BECAUSE 'FAKE NEWS' IS A LIE
You'll recall that the Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton initially dismissed reports of TSA agent sick-outs as "fake news" from CNN. Nearly two weeks later, however, the TSA isn't saying anything about fake news and today began publishing a wider array of statistics about the shutdown's effects on travel. Although the nationwide top line looks good, the granular details are distressing. The "official" sick-out rate yesterday (Monday) was 6.8 percent nationwide, which is nearly triple the 2.5 percent rate registered a year ago. Atlanta/Hartsfield, of course, was a disaster yesterday. The TSA says the maximum waiting time was 88 minutes in general checkpoint lines and reached an astonishing 55 minutes in PreCheck lines. Wait times at Dallas/Love surged above 40 minutes. Other airports with 20-minute or longer waits included Newark, Dallas/Fort Worth, Honolulu, and Miami. Of the more than 40 airports covered, the worst PreCheck performance after Atlanta was in Seattle, where waits were as long as 14 minutes.
1/14/19, 7:30PM ET, MONDAY
IN FORT LAUDERDALE, A COLLECTION POINT FOR TSA AGENTS
Fort Lauderdale Airport authorities say the airport is collecting donated food for federal employees. The drop-off area is at the rental car center on the second floor near the Lost and Found office. FLL officials say the drop-off area will be manned Monday to Friday at 9-10 am, 3-4 pm and 7-8 pm. The phone number is 954-359-6116.
1/14/19, 5:30PM ET, MONDAY
THE CHAOS IN ATLANTA, DOCUMENTED
The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a story and pictures about this morning's meltdown at TSA checkpoints. Faced with a shortage of TSA agents--many are calling in sick rather than work without pay--security lines snaked throughout the airport and wait times surged past an hour. The paper also reported yesterday (January 13) that a passenger carried a firearm on a Delta Air Lines flight to Japan. The incident occurred January 2 as the flyer was somehow able to carry the gun past a fully staffed security checkpoint.
1/14/19, 9:30AM ET, MONDAY
MEANWHILE, IN GERMANY ... A SECURITY STRIKE
German unions have called for a walk-out tomorrow (Tuesday) of security personnel at eight airports in Germany, including Frankfurt and Munich, the country's primary hub. The strike is set for local time between 2pm and 8pm. Expect delays and cancellations there. At least a third of Frankfurt's flight schedule Tuesday has already been dumped as of 9am today.
1/14/19, 9AM ET, MONDAY
NOW IT'S REAL ... REALLY BAD
TSA screeners are now calling in sick with much greater frequency. After first claiming sick calls were "fake news"--that came from Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton and I think you can guess his pre-government political bent--the TSA admits that sick-outs are skyrocketing.
On Saturday, January 12, according to a TSA spokesman, the national sick-out rate was 5.6 percent. That compares to an "unscheduled absence" rate of 3.3 a year ago. On Sunday, January 13, the sick rate was 7.7 percent compared to the year-ago number of 3.2 percent. If you're counting, Sunday's sick-out rate increased by 58 percent year-over-year.
And the TSA can't claim now that the outages aren't biting. At least three airports--Miami, Houston/Intercontinental and Washington/Dulles--are closing some TSA checkpoints and redirecting passengers. At MIA, it's afternoon closures on Concourse G. At IAH, it's Terminal B closures. At Dulles, it's West Mezzanine closures.
Please let me stress that those closures are what we know about already. More are surely on the way--and they will come without advance warning or notice. So be prepared. Moreover, lines at other airports are beginning to lengthen substantially. At Atlanta Hartsfield this morning, for example, checkpoint lines have exceeded one hour and photos posted by travelers show lines backing up into the baggage claim areas.
As I warned you in Thursday's Tactical Traveler, the situation will worsen as each day passes since workers have missed at least one paycheck and have no assurances that this closure will end before the next paycheck is due. Like it or not, many government employees do live paycheck-to-paycheck. Many can't afford day care for their children and are staying home to care for them rather than working. Others simply need to find side hustles to pay the bills.
So what's to do? For starters, expect the unexpected. That means showing up earlier for flights, leaving more time between connecting flights that require a second passage through security and leaving much more time after your arrival on an international flight. (Customs lines are lengthening, too.) Naturally, I'd defer any flying you can reschedule until after the situation has passed.
Finally, as annoying as this is for us, remember that checkpoint agents and Customs officials are not being paid right now. Don't get angry with them. Like or hate what and how they do their jobs, they're now doing them without compensation. A little consideration, please. Be polite. Say thanks. Wish them well. If you see someplace to chip in to food banks or other services that help the agents get through, make a donation. But do not try to tip or otherwise pay a TSA or Customs agent directly. They are barred by law from accepting remuneration of any kind.
1/13/19, 7PM ET, SUNDAY
FOREIGN AID (PIZZA) FOR AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS WORKING WITHOUT PAY
Canadian air traffic controllers are sending some much needed foreign aid to U.S. controllers, who are working without pay since the partial government shutdown began on December 22. Canadian controllers are taking it upon themselves to buy pizzas for their U.S. compatriots. "We've sent pizzas to 40 U.S. facilities and that number continues to climb by the hours," Peter Duffy, president of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association., told the Canadian Press.
1/11/19, 7PM ET, FRIDAY
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS SUE THE GOVERNMENT
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), which represents the nation's air traffic controllers, has filed suit against the Trump Administration. Filed in federal court, the suit alleges that the shutdown "unlawfully deprived" thousands of its members of pay "without due process." According to CNBC, the union represents 19,000 FAA employees, including 14,000 air traffic controllers. The air traffic controllers have an unhappy history with union activity, of course. When they went on strike in August, 1981, President Reagan fired them, putting nearly 12,000 controllers out of work. Most never worked in a control tower again.
1/11/19, 11AM ET, FRIDAY
IS THIS THE SHUTDOWN'S NEW NORMAL?
Let me give you a personal view from the shutdown front: My American Airlines flight from Milan yesterday arrived at New York/JFK an hour early. After a 20-minute delay because of some sort of (local) police activity back in coach, we're cleared to disembark. After the long, long up-and-down maze of Terminal 8 arrivals, I turn the corner into the customs area and walk smack into wave after wave after wave of humanity. So many arrivals overwhelming the overworked, understaffed (and not being paid) customs agents that we can't even reach the Global Entry area. So many people are jammed into the room that you literally cannot find a path to the Global Entry and automated customs kiosks. In fact, it took 15 minutes to push through other travelers to reach the kiosks--and the machines are overwhelmed. Some are out of service, others are being occupied by travelers who don't realize they can't use them. And one stoic agent--his name was Rodriguez--gamely trying to coax the unqualified travelers onto the impossibly long lines to free up the kiosks for those of us trying to use them. So welcome to the shutdown, fellow travelers. As a source explains, every day it continues, our lives on the road will get more complicated. And poor officer Rodriguez and hundreds of thousands of federal workers labor without pay. Are we having fun yet this year?
1/10/19, 3PM ET, THURSDAY
EVERY DAY IS A WINDING ROAD ... WITH NASTY SHUTDOWN CURVES
It's nearly impossible to discuss 2019 travel trends with the partial government shutdown staring us in the face. When the stalemate reaches Friday, January 11, it will be the longest government closure in history--and "essential" workers like TSA screeners and Customs agents will miss their first paychecks. They've worked without pay since before Christmas and the longer the shutdown drags on, the more our travel experience will deteriorate. It's not just longer airport checkpoint lines to worry about as increasing numbers of TSA agents call in sick because they will not or cannot work without pay. Air traffic controllers aren't being paid, either, and they'll be less interested in manning their stressful posts without pay. (Some TSA agents and controllers have already resigned, leaving for other jobs, say the unions representing them.) Customs lines at international ports of entry will begin to lengthen, too, although smart travelers already rely on automated solutions and Global Entry. Even that won't be immune to the effects of a shutdown. Interviews for renewals of Global Entry credentials (and with them TSA PreCheck privileges) are being cancelled, some travelers say. And while the State Department says passport applications continue to be processed, no one knows for sure. Why? State and Homeland Security Web sites have stopped being updated, so there's no current information available. "Another week or so and things will really start getting ugly," one normally sanguine airline executive told me via E-mail on Wednesday (January 9). "Every day the government is down is another day travel will be harder to manage." One other depressing note: While the government is shut down, the FAA has suspended aircraft inspections. So, you know, good luck with that ...
1/9/19, 1:45PM ET, WEDNESDAY
TALES FROM THE FRONT: NO PAY FOR THE TSA
A TSA agent at Salt Lake City Airport (SLC) named Angel Stephensen has told The Washington Post about life without a paycheck. Working for the TSA "isn't glamorous on the best of days," she says. "Now, thanks to the shutdown, we're doing that work without compensation. My husband also is a TSA officer, so neither of us is bringing in any money right now." She's also no fan of President Trump's claim that unpaid federal employees back him on the shutdown. "The president was born with a silver spoon in his mouth," she suggests. "If he thinks he knows how 'those people' think, he is out of his mind." The complete story is here.
1/4/19, 8:45PM ET, FRIDAY
CNN REPORTS A TSA SICK-OUT AND SICK TRUMPBOTS CLAIM 'FAKE NEWS'
CNN is reporting the inevitable: Hundreds of TSA agents are calling in sick rather than work without pay. That brought a furious, offensively inaccurate response from Tyler Q. Houlton, a right wing activist and Trump Administration apologist who is currently a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. "Fake news," he raged mindlessly on Twitter. He also complained CNN "grossly misrepresents" statistics and did not contact TSA officials. The story, of course, quotes TSA officials, none of whom questioned CNN's sick-out stats. But right wing nutbags like Houlton never let facts get in the way of the base-baiting bullshit.
12/25/18, 7PM ET, TUESDAY
THE CHRISTMAS-NIGHT FLIGHT DISS
There I am minding my own business in the PreCheck line at JFK Terminal 4 on Christmas night when I'm randomly pulled for secondary screening.
"Over there," a TSA agent said with a shrug. "Someone will come to pat you down."
But the first someone is a female agent. We stare at each other from opposite sides of the full-body scanner.
"I'm okay if you're okay," I say gamely.
"Nope," comes the instant reply. "I'm already not getting paid for working tonight ..."
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