The Transportation Security Administration is planning to begin closing a handful of security checkpoints at airports around the country as soon as this weekend in response to staffing shortages triggered by a partial U.S. government shutdown now in its third week.
Miami International Airport expects to shut one of its concourses for several days starting Saturday afternoon and will move flights to other gates, according to a statement by the airport.
More than 51,000 TSA security officers have been working without pay since Dec. 22 and missed their first paycheck on Friday. On Thursday, the agency saw a 55 percent increase in employees calling in sick, from 3.3 percent a year ago to 5.1, spokesman Michael Bilello said in an email.
“In an effort to optimize resources without degrading screening and security effectiveness, where it is feasible, TSA is working with key stakeholders and industry partners to explore efforts to consolidate officers and operations,” Bilello said in a tweet.
Concourse G at the Miami airport will be closed after 1 p.m. Saturday through Monday and travelers will be directed to other checkpoints.
United Continental Holdings Inc. has some flights at Concourse G. “We will work to ensure we do everything we can for our customers and we do not expect any operational impact,” said Frank Benenati, a United spokesman.
TSA hasn’t heard of any other airport planning to shut an entire concourse like the one in Miami, Bilello said. It’s routine for TSA to open and close screening lanes as volume at airports rises and falls.
Airport security officers along with air-traffic controllers and employees at more than a dozen U.S. agencies and departments have been caught in a squeeze over a political battle between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over whether to fund a border wall with Mexico.
The security screeners and controllers are among workers declared essential to security and have been ordered to work without pay. Most other furloughed employees aren’t working. In similar shutdowns in recent years, Congress and the White House have always agreed to pay back wages to government employees, though some contractors haven’t been paid.
The TSA has vowed to take steps to ensure that screening of people and bags at airports isn’t compromised by the shutdown.
“As the current lapse in funding persists, TSA officers continue to perform with the utmost professionalism and dedication,” Bilello said. “We thank TSA officers for their resilience and diligence, and we thank industry and the public for their continued acts of kindness and support.”
While the percent of officers calling in sick is up substantially, the overall number of missing screeners remains small and airport operations have had minimal disruptions, according to the agency.
TSA officers screened 1.96 million passengers Thursday and 99.9 percent waited in line less than 30 minutes, according to the agency.
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Photo Credit: A TSA agent screens travelers inside Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on Dec. 24, 2018. Zach Gibson / Bloomberg