A classical violinist played for passengers waiting in line Friday morning at the main security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Wait times were estimated at 15 to 30 minutes, about average for the world’s busiest airport. But over recent days, the lines have been much longer.
As the Transportation Security Administration works to maintain adequate staffing levels during the partial government shutdown, wait times are hard to predict. Many passengers are showing up well in advance of their scheduled flights just to play it safe.
“I was told to be here three and a half hours early because the security lines take that long to get through,” said Cynthia, a departing passenger traveling home to Arkansas. “Three and a half hours just to travel to an airport — that’s not even my flight included. So, now you’re expecting one whole day to get to where you’re supposed to be going.”
On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration halted some incoming flights into LaGuardia Airport in New York due to air traffic control staffing issues, and delays were reported at other airports.
“Our concern is not so much people coming in, because we know it will be spread out over a 10-day period,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. “But then there’s what we call ‘mass exodus Monday.’ And it’s my hope personally that some folk will delay their departure until Tuesday even.”
Bottoms predicts 110,000 passengers will travel through the airport on the day after the Super Bowl. The airport’s previous record was set on Memorial Day of last year, when 94,000 passengers flew in or out of the facility.
The mayor told National Public Radio’s Here & Now radio program her office is working on ways to alleviate some of the financial burden Atlanta-based TSA workers are facing as they continue to work without pay.
"We're working, along with our credit union… and also many of our corporate partners, to create some type of fund that will allow us to extend the opportunity for loans to our TSA workers," Bottoms told NPR.
While going without pay, the cost of gas has been an obstacle for some TSA employees to get to work. Today, Georgia’s Own Credit Union and RaceTrac are offering TSA employees 8.5 gallons of free gas at two stations near the airport.
Nonprofit groups and individuals have also been donating food to federal employees in Atlanta and throughout the country. But the idea of TSA workers having to rely on charity to make ends meet bothers some of the passenger’s they work to protect.
Copernicus Guerra, a passenger traveling to Washington, D.C. said, “It’s not only frustrating, but it’s also very sad to see that we have a lot of men and women who are supporting our airline industry, working very hard, and then not being paid.”
Fox News’ Chip Bell and Emilie Ikeda contributed to this report.