Houston, Miami airports close some security checkpoints after TSA officers call out sick in government shutdown

Key Points
  • TSA officers, air traffic controllers and thousands of other government employees are working without pay due to the partial government shutdown.
  • The biggest airports of Houston and Miami each shut one of their terminals this weekend because more TSA officers are calling out sick.
  • FAA calls back some furloughed safety inspectors.
Passengers wait in a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) line at JFK airport in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport said it shut down one of its security checkpoints on Sunday because of staffing shortfalls in the partial government shutdown, airport staff told travelers.

The airport's decision to close terminal B's security checkpoint and ticketing counters follows a similar measure at Miami International Airport, which shut one of its terminals early over the weekend as more Transportation Security Administration officers call out sick after they missed their first paycheck since the shutdown began on Dec. 22. Houston airport officials said the terminal's checkpoint remained closed on Monday morning.

The TSA workers are among the some 420,000 federal employees deemed essential who are working without pay. Amid the shutdown, which began on Dec. 22 and is now the longest ever, TSA officers missed their first paycheck on Friday.


The shifts show how the impact from the shutdown, the result of an impasse between President Donald Trump and lawmakers over funding for a barrier along the southern U.S. border, are impacting aviation. The shutdown has stalled the required federal approvals for new jets and routes, as well as certifications for new mechanics and other industry employees.

The agency acknowledged that unscheduled absences of the 51,000 TSA officers have been on the rise, but said "security standards remain uncompromised at our nation's airports." About 5.6 percent of officers called out sick on Saturday, up from 3.3 percent a year ago, spokesman Michael Bilello said Saturday.

Airports "may begin exercising consolidation option during peak periods, and these decisions will be made at the local level," TSA said in a statement.

The TSA considers a normal wait time on security line 30 minutes or less. At Miami International Airport, McCarren International Airport (which serves Las Vegas) and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, maximum wait times were 29 minutes, Bilello said. Others around the country were lower, and the impact to air travelers has so far been minimal.

"We usually see 30-40 TSA call-outs per day, but that has doubled in the last few days," Greg Chin, spokesman for Miami International Airport, told CNBC in an email. He said that the airport has about 700 TSA workers scheduled to work daily.

Starting Saturday, flights scheduled to fly from Miami's Terminal G after 1 p.m. through the same time on Sunday and Monday, will be relocated to Terminals F or H. The change is a "precautionary measure and to better utilize the decreased staffing," Chin said.

United Airlines will use other gates for flights that were scheduled to depart from Terminal G, and is telling travelers to arrive at the airport early and to check for changes, a spokeswoman said.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske late Friday said the screeners would receive $500 and be paid for Dec. 22, the day the shutdown began.

Human, economic toll mounts

The aviation world has been among the most vocal industries demanding an end to the shutdown, complaining about lost wages and potential economic damage from the impasse.

On Friday, the union that represents federal air traffic controllers sued the Trump administration over pay frozen in the shutdown.

"As the partial government shutdown continues, the human and economic consequences are increasing and doing greater harm," aviation industry members wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The shutdown has raised questions about air carriers' ability to follow through with scheduled events.

Delta Air Lines scheduled a launch Jan. 31 of its brand-new Airbus A220s, a plane its using to court business travelers with bigger seats and windows. Also, Southwest Airlines is awaiting government approval to begin service to Hawaii.

Airlines need Federal Aviation Administration inspectors' approval to debut new aircraft. The FAA said called about 500 furloughed safety inspectors back to work. FAA safety inspectors oversee and approve new aircraft, airplane maintenance and personnel like pilots and mechanics, among other areas.

Those inspectors are working without pay and more are likely to be called in this week, spokesman Gregory Martin said.

Here's how the government shutdown is affecting the airline industry
Here's how the government shutdown is affecting the airline industry