If you’re traveling by air during a government shutdown, expect delays. That’s because more than 50,000 TSA agents and 13,000 air traffic controllers will be asked to continue working without pay until the government is eventually funded. The TSA agents are of particular concern because they’re among the lowest-paid government workers, and they may have less of a savings safety net to weather the shutdown without income.
During the 2019 shutdown, large numbers of TSA agents called in sick after missing their first paycheck. Specifically, about 7.6% failed to show up for their designated shifts versus 3.2% that were absent during the same timeframe in the prior year, in which there was no shutdown. That could mean long lines and wait times for security screening at airports across the country, so you’ll definitely want to show up earlier than usual for your flight in the event of a government shutdown.
You’ll also want to check your flight status regularly for delays because there’s already a shortage of air traffic controllers post-COVID and a shutdown will pause the ability to hire and train additional controllers. Note that once the government reopens, both TSA workers and air traffic controllers are made whole with retroactive pay, but that’s only a small comfort to workers who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, some of whom started GoFundMe campaigns to make ends meet during prior shutdowns.