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TSA Sickouts Rising; Shutdown Impacting Meetings

Air travelers may be in for a rude awakening when navigating airports during the government shutdown, as the absence rate for TSA workers is now on a record pace.

According to reports, the absentee rate for TSA employees hit 10 percent of its more than 51,000 officers as of Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, compared with 3 percent a year ago.

With the government shutdown reaching 32 days at the time of this article’s publication, the screeners, along with air traffic controllers—among the 420,000 government workers that have been classified as essential—have been working without pay for more than four weeks, or roughly two pay periods.

In response, the TSA sent out a National Deployment Force to major airports, including the world’s busiest, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is expecting a surge of travelers coming to the destination for the Super Bowl LIII on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019.

[Meetings Today Podcast: Airport Travel Tips During the Government Shutdown]

Despite the record absenteeism, wait lines at major airports have remained within acceptable TSA standards, at least according to the latest report from the organization’s website.

“TSA, airport authorities and airlines continue to work closely to ensure resources are optimized, efforts to consolidate operations are actively managed, and screening lanes are properly staffed,” said TSA spokesperson Thomas Kelly, in a statement. “Some airports are exercising contingency plans that ensure and maintain effective security due to call-outs and anticipated high-volume.

"Travelers should allow enough time to get through the airport and board their flight," Kelly added.

"For questions about terminal closings, travelers should seek current airline and airport information before arriving at the airport," he said. “While national average wait times are within TSA standards of 30 minutes for standard lanes and 10 minutes for TSA Pre✓, some airports experienced longer than usual wait times."

TSA maintains a running update of its checkpoint operations on its website.

PCMA Reports Meetings Affected

PCMA reported that the 27th annual International Plant & Animal Genome (PAG) conference held January 12-16, in San Diego suffered cancellations from more than 175 attendees, including 30 speakers.

The association reported that the International PAG conference was on a clip to set an attendance record before the shutdown—now the longest in U.S. history—occurred.

The full report on the International PAG conference is available on PCMA’s website.

According to Voices in Advocacy Founder Roger Rickard, meeting planners may soon feel the pinch when they are hit with attrition penalties for not meeting their room block commitments.

"We are seeing an increase in the number of TSA security personnel that are not reporting for work, according to news reports, 10% of the scheduled workers did not report on Sunday," Rickard said.

"Typically, they have 3% no show," he added. "This is a 300 plus percent increase.

"This is currently not having a huge impact; however, should this trend continue we will begin seeing more issues," Rickard continued. "The current state of the political landscape leads me to believe that there are only two ways this ends. One, by having the American public inundate their Members of Congress with phone calls asking for an end to the shutdown. Forcing congress and the president to act. The second I fear is a massive disruption to the airline industry due to the lack security at our airports. So I implore all to communicate to congress the need to end the shutdown now before we have an unfortunate mishap."

[Read This Next: What the Government Shutdown Means for Meetings]

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About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.