“This time, they don’t think that’s going to happen,” she said. That could affect the industry’s entire supply chain, from warehouses to trucks to grocery stores, she added.
At MIA, customs was already understaffed before the sequester, which began in a busy month for South Florida tourism. International passengers waited for four hours at customs checkpoints during some weekend days in March, causing hundreds of them to miss their connecting flights. Some had to spend the night at the airport.
Rolando Aedo, senior vice president for marketing and tourism at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said his office has been getting phone calls, photos and videos from people standing in line. Half of MIA passengers are international, he said.
“There are people … telling us they will not come back,” Aedo said, calling it “a very, very dire situation.”
The impact has been smaller for cruise passengers at the port, Johnson said, at least for now. The port did not have the same pre-existing Customs officer shortage as the airport. PortMiami has had to bring in additional Miami-Dade police officers to escort passengers to a customs checkpoint in one terminal, after the sequester forced the closure of a second checkpoint.
Johnson said he’s concerned about the long-term effect delays may have on passengers — especially for cruises, which require quick turnaround times for thousands of people to board and disembark ships.
“We’ve got to make sure that cruise passengers leave with a smile,” he said. “This is not a welcome mat.”
A previous version of this article misstated the name of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.