Atlanta airport passengers face three-hour delays at immigration due to government shutdown

America’s busiest airport experienced huge queues as TSA agents failed to show up to work

Helen Coffey
Wednesday 16 January 2019 12:10
Donald Trump orders fast food to the White House amid shutdown

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, America’s busiest, had to warn passengers to allow three hours to get through security earlier this week, amid the US government’s longest ever shutdown.

“ATL is experiencing longer than usual wait times during peak travel,” it tweeted on 14 January. “Please plan ahead and give yourself three hours to clear security.”

The advice remained the same throughout Tuesday, according to Business Insider, although as of 16 January the guidance on the airport’s website has been scaled back to two hours.

Huge queues saw some passengers miss flights on Monday, according to AP, with wait times of over an hour at security.

The hold-up was prompted by the government shutdown, now in its 26th day, during which government employees aren’t paid.

This includes Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, who are responsible for security screening at US airports. Although they are expected to work unpaid during the shutdown, many more than normal are calling in sick.

Four per cent more agents nationwide took unscheduled absences on Monday compared to the same day the previous year, said TSA spokesman Michael Bilello – 7.6 per cent up from 3.2 per cent.

He added that meetings would be taking place between agency directors and airport authorities and airlines to “ensure resources are optimised, efforts to consolidate operations are actively managed, and that the screening and security of the traveling public are never compromised”.

According to Bilello, the TSA is also planning to reallocate officers where needed across the US “to meet staffing shortages that cannot be addressed locally”.

The shutdown is impacting 800,000 government workers in total.

It started on 22 December 2018, stemming from an impasse over President Trump’s demand for $5.6bn in federal funds to build a US-Mexico border wall.

The Democrat-majority House has approved an appropriations bill minus the wall funding, but Trump has maintained he will veto any bill that does not include money for the wall.

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