Air travel may be less safe during the government shutdown, federal inspectors warn
As Miami International Airport prepares to close a concourse to departing flights amid a shortage of security screeners, Congressional Democrats used the terminal as an example of why the federal shutdown needs to end immediately.
Rep. Donna Shalala, newly elected to a Miami district, cited the planned closing of a Pizza Hut in MIA’s Terminal G Saturday afternoon as one of the ripple effects from a partial shutdown that’s about to be the longest in U.S. history.
“This is an impossible situation, and it’s absolutely irresponsible,” Shalala said during a press conference at MIA with fellow South Florida Democratic representatives Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and unions representing aviation and airport workers. “The economic impact of these shutdowns is simply horrible for our community.”
The Transportation Security Administration reported standard wait times at MIA Friday morning as the weekend rush began, statistics that were mirrored in modest lines throughout the day in the terminals.
The county-owned airport caused a stir Thursday night when it revealed plans to close Concourse G to outbound flights Saturday afternoon because TSA concluded it might not have enough screeners to keep the security checkpoint operating there amid a spike in unpaid workers not showing up for shifts.
Airport administrators noted the concourse was the slowest at MIA, and that about a dozen flights would be shifted out of G to other terminals. They predicted no disruption from the changes. Members of the media outnumbered passengers outside G Friday night as the CBS Evening News prepared to go live there with its report on the shutdown’s effects.
But airport administrators said they couldn’t predict what the next week will bring if the shutdown continues over President Donald Trump’s demand that government spending bills for 2019 include about $5 billion for an expanded wall on the country’s southern border. Should more TSA workers call in sick, the county-owned airport is ready for more checkpoint closures.
“We’ll have to see,” said airport spokesman Greg Chin.
With Concourse G, home to United and smaller airlines, closing to outbound flights at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, restaurants and shops inside the terminal will shut down, too.
For now, retailers on Concourse G are planning to send workers to other locations at MIA, said Wendi Walsh of the Unite Here union, which represents hospitality workers in Miami. But she said the plan is short-term and might end if more concourses lose checkpoints. “We fear even more of the airport will close,” she said.
With the shutdown, TSA employees and other staffers considered crucial to safety and security are working without pay. Friday was the first time since the partial shutdown began Dec. 22 that a payday arrived with affected workers receiving no compensation.
Bill Kisseadoo, president of the Miami union for federal air-traffic controllers, said the missed payday has escalated the pressure on the roughly 100 workers at MIA’s control tower who are supposed to focus solely on helping planes take off and land safely.
“Many of them right now are struggling, because they have bills to pay,” he said. “This has become a big distraction in the workplace.”