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Some airport security line wait times jump amid government shutdown

Some airport security line wait times jump amid government shutdown
Security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport stretched more than an hour long Monday. (John Spink / Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Some airport security lanes in Atlanta, Washington and Houston were closed as the Transportation Security Administration continued to grapple with more absenteeism during the partial government shutdown.

The TSA will begin relocating airport screening officers “on a national basis to meet staffing shortages that cannot be addressed locally,” the federal agency said in a tweet Monday. The TSA will also join airports and airlines in announcing when security lane closures occur so travelers can plan accordingly.

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Wait times to pass through security were “over an hour” at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International’s main checkpoint for domestic flights Monday. Screening times were as much as 45 minutes at the two other domestic flight checkpoints at the nation’s busiest hub. The airport is adding more “live music at all of our checkpoints to help ease tensions for passengers,” spokeswoman Elise Durham said in an email.

The TSA on Monday experienced more than twice the normal rate of security officers calling in sick, agency spokesman Michael Bilello said in a tweet. The rate of 7.6% unscheduled absences compared with 3.2% on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, he said.

“Washington-Dulles International Airport & Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are exercising contingency plans due to callouts related to a snow event & anticipated high-volume, respectively,” Bilello tweeted. “Travelers should contact their airline before traveling.”

George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston closed the sole security checkpoint and ticketing counter in Terminal B “due to staffing issues” related to the shutdown, according to its website. Passengers flying in or out of Terminal B were routed to one of two other facilities. The checkpoint was first closed Sunday.

For those traveling through Los Angeles International Airport, there’s less to worry about. According to agency spokesman James Gregory, staffing there has been adequate and the TSA has not had to consolidate any security lines.

TSA screeners weren’t paid Friday, their first full payday since the federal government mostly shut more than a dozen major departments and agencies Dec. 22 in a dispute over whether to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske announced last week that the agency would pay its employees for work conducted on that first day of the shutdown and awarded bonuses of $500 to each of them.

“While I realize this is not what you are owed for your hard work during pay period 26 and what you deserve, I hope these actions alleviate some of the financial hardship many of you are facing,” Pekoske said in a tweet.

At Virginia’s Dulles airport, which is near Washington, the TSA in collaboration with the airport closed two checkpoints and consolidated all screening into a third checkpoint, Bilello tweeted. The region was hit with snow over the weekend, and TSA officers were staying home at rates “slightly higher than a normal snowstorm,” he said.

The government shutdown has also kept most Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors off the job, prompting many routine actions to come to a halt. Southwest Airlines said it was unable to move ahead with efforts to win approval for flights to Hawaii.

Times staff writer Andrew Khouri contributed to this report.

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