TSA Walkout at 10 Biggest Airports Would Ground a Third of All Flights

The partial shutdown of the federal government has left Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) workers without paychecks. The government agency has about 47,000 Transportation Security Officers who provide airport security. More and more of these workers have decided not to show up at work because they are not being paid.

The decline in the number of TSA agents has started to snarl the passenger’s lines at some of America’s largest airports, threatening the ability of airlines to operate at peak capacity.

At some point, it could be difficult for them to operate at all at some airports. The largest U.S. airports account for nearly a third of all U.S. passengers (the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, calls these “enplanements”) and would be hardest hit by sharp drops in TSA security officers.

Making matters worse, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday TSA officers are calling in sick at twice the normal rate forcing some large airports to consolidate their security lanes, which lengthens lines and makes for unhappy passengers. A union official told Bloomberg that TSA risks losing employees by continuing to ask them to work without pay.

If the security officers do quit and find other jobs, filling those positions during the shutdown likely would be nearly impossible. If the shutdown ends with a significant loss in security officers, ramping up hiring will take time and lead to more traveler dissatisfaction.

If the 10 largest airports in the United States cannot operate, it threatens locations that account for almost 300 million passengers a year. These are the 10 busiest U.S. airports according to the FAA:

Airport City CY17 Enplanements
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Atlanta 50,251,962
2. Los Angeles International Los Angeles 41,232,416
3. Chicago O’Hare International Chicago 38,593,028
4. Dallas-Fort Worth International Fort Worth 31,816,933
5. Denver International Denver 29,809,091
6. John F Kennedy International New York 29,533,154
7. San Francisco International San Francisco 26,900,016
8. McCarran International Las Vegas 23,364,185
9. Seattle-Tacoma International Seattle 22,639,120
10. Charlotte/Douglas International Charlotte 22,011,225

Source: Federal Aviation Administration