WASHINGTON • US transportation security officials have played down concerns that the government shutdown poses a threat to safety at major airports, but warned that the second half of next week could be crucial if workers do not get paid.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners at airports are considered "essential" employees and are working without pay in the government shutdown that has entered a third week. But, according to CNN, "hundreds" have been calling in sick due to the closure.
If the government resumes funding by Thursday, the 51,739 TSA employees supporting airport security will be paid the following day. "We're scheduled to be paid on Friday. If we go past midweek missing a pay period, that certainly changes the environment," said TSA spokesman Michael Bilello.
Nationwide, the call-ins have not had much of an effect on operations, he and other officials said.
As of Saturday morning, the maximum TSA wait time was 36 minutes, and the maximum PreCheck wait time was 17 minutes, both within TSA standards of 45 and 15 minutes, respectively. The TSA PreCheck programme allows travellers to have expedited security screening.
At New York's JFK airport on Friday, the maximum wait time was 21 minutes and the maximum PreCheck wait was four minutes. At Dallas-Fort Worth International, the wait time was slightly longer but still within TSA standards. Over 90 per cent of passengers waited less than 15 minutes, Mr Bilello said.
For security reasons, the agency does not release specific staffing numbers.
The Airports Council International, a trade body for the world's airport authorities, expressed concerns about the shutdown. "A prolonged government shutdown could potentially impact security and wait times at airports, as transportation security officers seek other employment," said Mr Christopher Bidwell, senior vice-president for security.