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TSA Worker Shortages Are Creating Huge Security Lines At Airports

The TSA reported a surge in unscheduled employee absences as the agents continue to work without pay during the partial government shutdown.

Posted on January 14, 2019, at 2:17 p.m. ET

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Airports across the US have had to close security lanes due to no-show Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents amid the partial government shutdown.

Photos show long lines snaking around Atlanta's airport and there were reports of security lane and checkpoint closures in other major ports.

At Atlanta's Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport, a major East Coast travel hub, some security lanes had to be closed due to staff shortages. However, as of Monday afternoon, airport spokesperson Elise Durham told BuzzFeed News all checkpoints were open, and "while a little longer than usual, they are moving efficiently." Wait times were over an hour at the main security checkpoint. Other checkpoints had waits of 30 to 45 minutes, or 15 to 30 minutes at the international terminal.

"We are asking passengers to plan accordingly and build more time into their travel schedule," Durham said in an email.

Reporters on the scene shared videos showing the massive size of the lines.

Atlanta Airport 10:15 a.m. : In this video we started at the back of the security point entrance, walked the line to baggage claim. @wsbtv

So I’m at @ATLairport and this may be the longest security line I have ever seen. Even growing up here, and even for a Monday morning. One passenger told me he’d been waiting over an hour and still had about 30 minutes to go.

TSA agents are among the federal employees not being paid during the partial federal government shutdown. However, they are considered an essential service, so agents are expected to continue working, despite missing their Jan. 11 paycheck.

Typically, federal employees are paid retroactively once a shutdown is over, but in the meantime, the numbers of TSA agents not showing up for their shifts has doubled, according to the agency's assistant administrator for public affairs.

The TSA is not currently answering media inquiries due to the shutdown. But an outgoing message on the media line said the number of unscheduled employee absences on Monday was 7.6%, compared to 3.2% one year ago.

This morning, TSA experienced a national rate of 7.6 percent unscheduled absences compared to a 3.2 percent rate one year ago, Monday, January 15, 2018. Most importantly, security standards remain uncompromised at our nation’s airports.

The agency also said 1.97 million people were screened at airports in the US on Sunday, with 99.1% of them waiting less than 30 minutes.

"Most importantly, security standards remain uncompromised at our nation's airports," the message added.

At Miami International Airport, Concourse G was temporarily closed due to staff shortages but reopened on Monday. A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News wait times remain normal "despite call-outs by TSA screeners being higher than normal." By Monday afternoon, though, a second TSA scanner had been shut down in Concourse D.

At Miami International Airport, one of two TSA scanners is closed for this Concourse D checkpoint. The line is...significant.


At George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, the security checkpoint at Terminal B was closed due to short staffing. Passengers traveling through the terminal had to be screened at Terminal C or E. Still, the airport's website reported waits of less than 10 minutes at the open checkpoints.

Terminal B security checkpoint remains closed this AM. Passengers w/ flights out of Terminal B will need to check in, and be screened at Terminal C or E. Please arrive early to allow plenty of time for this change. More info at: https://t.co/1ufWu0a111

According to tweets from TSA spokesperson Michael Bilello, Dulles International Airport had to consolidate some checkpoints, although at least some employee absences were due to a snowstorm.

The airport tweeted on Monday that all checkpoints are currently open.

All checkpoints are open at #FlyDulles with minimal wait times. We are grateful to all @TSA staff for their dedication to the mission!

"It is normal to see consolidation of resources during snow events (like yesterday) when passenger loads are lighter and travel to the airport is more difficult on the roads," said spokesperson Rob Yingling. "This morning the waits at Dulles were 15 minutes or less, according to local TSA staff. And actually, wait times are very low right now."

Monday marked the 24th day of the partial government shutdown, with no clear end in sight.

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