Shutdown starting to affect air travelers

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Transportation Security Administration employees are among the many government workers who do not know when they will see a paycheck. But there is a bit of relief coming this week.

Administrators for the TSA said people who worked Saturday, Dec. 22 will get a paycheck for that day. In addition, each uniformed screening officer will receive a $500 bonus for their hard work during the holiday travel season. The employees should receive that money this week.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has begun to take its plea directly to the air traveler and is making the case for increased pressure on Washington to end a shutdown that has them working long hours without pay and, they say, without support staff in an already pressure-filled job.

“Three thousand of our fellow co-workers that are working in a support role that help us to do the job we do are furloughed and sitting at home right now,” said Nick Daniels, an air traffic controller. “The best way I can put it is you wouldn’t send a surgeon in by themselves without the help of the team that’s with them. Air traffic controllers are essentially being asked to do that. To walk in and talk to airplanes with no support at all.”

Reaction from travelers has been generally supportive.

“I think it needs to happen soon. I think we all agree with that,” said traveler Scott Watson. “We’re ready to get past this.”

Travelers at Dallas Love Field shared messages for the TSA workers who continue to do their job.

“I appreciate you guys and everything you’re doing. It really makes a difference. I know the lines are long today and if they weren’t here they’d be even worse,” said Chris Harth, who was traveling Monday for work.

The shutdown has many TSA workers calling out sick in protest. At George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, the shortage forced the closure of a security checkpoint Sunday. Miami’s International Airport also closed an entire terminal over the weekend for the same reason.

Staff at Love Field and DFW International airports say they do not anticipate closing any checkpoints.

“We’re still reporting for duty. We’re showing up. But as time goes on without a support structure, there’s going to be an impact that’s felt,” Daniels said. “We’ll put safety above everything else. But at a point, efficiency and everything that goes with it is going to erode.”

The Air Traffic Controllers Union says that even before the shutdown, staffing was at a 30-year low and that many of their members have been working a lot of overtime. Some of them even work six days a week for years. And now without support staff, they’re being asked to do more than ever.