Earlier last week, security wait times at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — the busiest airport in the world — jumped to almost an hour and a half, which is more than double the country’s average. Due to the ongoing partial government shutdown, furloughed TSA agents that have been asked to continue working full time without pay decided they’d had enough. Last Sunday, the TSA reported that unscheduled absences (people calling in sick), jumped from the standard three percent up to double digits. As a result, many of the security lines were closed in the domestic terminal.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the largest employer in the entire state of Georgia, and many federal personnel are facing significant financial strain during the government standoff. Members of the TSA’s National Deployment Force have been sent to Atlanta to quell the situation, and free Chik-fil-A lunches have been delivered to some employees, but many are reporting that these responses don’t go far enough. Some people close to the White House have stated that the only way the government shutdown will come to a close is if enough TSA officials who safeguard the nation’s airports collectively decide to stay home.
Conflicts With Upcoming Super Bowl
To make matters worse, the timing of these delays is not ideal. On February 3rd, 2019, Atlanta is slated to host Super Bowl 53 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots will draw thousands of extra fliers to the airport. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance told reporters, “We are hosting one of the biggest, most-watched events in just a few weeks, and there are real concerns about whether or not our airport will be up and functioning in a way that we need it to be.” The airport that usually processes around 70,000 to 80,000 passengers per day will be forced to deal with about 110,000 passengers during Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta Georgia.
Security delays are one thing, but air traffic controllers are also being affected by the government shutdown. During the Super Bowl week, the risk of delays rises sharply due to the increase in private jets. Reports say that Atlanta’s airport could see about 1,500 additional flights per day around the time of the Super Bowl. Plus, with less air traffic controllers to monitor the situation, things could get dire.
Other Affected Cities
Atlanta is hardly alone. In early January, Miami International Airport closed security checkpoints at one of its six terminals for three afternoons due to a shortage of TSA screeners. After 1:00 pm daily, all restaurants and shops in that terminal have been closed. In addition, Washington’s Dulles International Airport closed some security checkpoints after a number of TSA agents began calling in sick.
What Does This Mean for You?
If you have upcoming travel plans, keep in mind that airport delays could happen anywhere, anytime. While Atlanta may have been hit the hardest, all airports are at risk of facing significant delays as the shutdown rolls on. Consider arriving at the airport three hours ahead of your scheduled departure time to make sure a wrench doesn’t get thrown in your travel plans. If you do get stuck in Atlanta and need to stay overnight, opt for one of our spots in Airbnb Atlanta: 9 Places to Stay Like a Local. And if things get really delayed, have a read through Your Tourist Guide to the City of Atlanta to keep you busy while in town.