Super Bowl LIII planners in Atlanta: This shutdown means ‘uncharted territory’

The protracted partial government shutdown — now on its 25th day — represents “uncharted territory” as planning intensifies ahead of the nation's biggest sporting event — Super Bowl LIII, set for Feb. 3 in Atlanta.

The expected crush of travelers is significantly more than normal at the world’s busiest airport. On a typical day, 60,000 to 80,000 passengers are screened at Atlanta’s airport before departing, airport statistics show.

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On Feb. 4, the day Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms calls “Mass Exodus Monday,” about 110,000 passengers are expected to be departing from Atlanta’s airport one day after the Super Bowl.

“Obviously, we are in uncharted territory with the shutdown that’s gone on this long, and we are preparing as best we can from our vantage point,” Bottoms said.

The mayor and others at a Tuesday news conference said two years of planning have them well prepared to protect the public.

“Our goal is for our officers to be visible, for the public to feel safe, be safe, and be able to position ourselves so that we can react immediately to whatever scenario we are confronted with,” Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said. “I think that with anything you can go in with a spirit of confidence if you have prepared, and we have prepared well.”

No-shows among screeners across the nation soared Sunday and again Monday, as TSA officers have been working without pay since the federal shutdown began Dec. 22. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

No-shows among screeners across the nation soared Sunday and again Monday, as TSA officers have been working without pay since the federal shutdown began Dec. 22. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

But the government shutdown is a wild card that arose relatively late in that planning process.

“Certainly there are factors that we don’t control such as what’s happening with our federal government shutdown and with the long TSA lines,” Bottoms said. “We are continuing to encourage people to get to the airport very early.”

The partial government shutdown has meant missed paychecks for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners at airports nationwide.

TSA workers have been calling in sick at a rate that’s been more than double what it normally is, the agency has said. That’s led to a shortage of screeners at some airports across the country.

Indeed, no-shows among screeners jumped Sunday and again Monday.

The TSA had a national absence rate of nearly 7 percent Monday, compared to 2.5 percent on a comparable day a year ago, the agency reported Tuesday after getting complete numbers on the absences.

A chaotic scene unfolded at Atlanta’s airport on Monday, the first business day after screeners did not receive a paycheck for the first time. Mondays are typically busy for the airport as Atlanta business travelers depart for the work week, and some security lanes went unstaffed as lines backed up.

Atlanta passengers led the nation Monday in terms of longest screening delays: The “maximum standard wait time” was 88 minutes, the TSA reported. Passengers who went through TSA PreCheck — an expedited screening program which is typically faster than regular lines — waited 55 minutes, statistics showed.

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Friday could be the next big test for the nation’s airports, as holiday travelers get away for a long holiday weekend. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on Monday. Friday is also typically a busy day for airports as business travelers head home for the weekend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.