TSA officials play down concerns over airport safety as US govt shutdown goes on, payday looms

VIDEO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials played down concerns 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.

Hundreds of TSA screeners continued to call in sick from work as the closure entered its third week.

If the government resumes funding by Thursday (Jan 10), 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 Michael Bilello, a TSA spokesman.

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.

For JFK airport on Friday, the maximum wait time was 21 minutes and the maximum PreCheck wait was four minutes.

 
 

At Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) International, the wait time was slightly longer than in New York but still within TSA standards.

Over 90 per cent of passengers waited less than 15 minutes, Bilello said.

An average of 25 TSA employees call in sick per shift at DFW. The normal call-in rate is 3.5 per cent, and yesterday it increased to 5.5 per cent, according to TSA.

For security reasons, the agency doesn't release specific staffing numbers.

The Airports Council International, a trade body for the world's airport authorities, expressed concerns about how the shutdown is dragging on.

"A prolonged government shutdown could potentially impact security and wait times at airports, as Transportation Security Officers seek other employment," said Christopher Bidwell, senior vice-president for security.