A Federal Government Shutdown Looms; Here’s How it Would Affect Travel

Government funding is set to run out September 30 and a deal is “nowhere in sight,” according to NPR. Should Congress fail to pass any last-minute measures, it would be the first shutdown since 2018 when the federal government shuttered for 35 days. It would impact federal workers and programs, like the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Meals on Wheels, the early education Head Start program, healthcare research and more, which are all likely to be paused. Federal employees would go without pay.

The shutdown would also seriously impact travel.

Air traffic controller training would be suspended—at a time when staffing shortages are a heavy contributor to air travel hassles—if the federal government shuts down. This risks preventing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from reaching its annual goal to hire 1,800 controllers for each of the next three years. Similarly, Transportation Security Administration (TSA)—like air traffic controllers and select other government employees—would still be required to work, but without pay. Like the last shutdown, it’s likely a high number of TSA workers and air traffic controllers will call out of work, refusing to work for free. As a result, we could see increased flight delays/cancelations as well as longer wait times at airports.

If you must fly during the government shutdown, be sure to arrive earlier than usual to give yourself enough time to get through security. It’s also a good time to familiarize yourself with an airline’s cancelation/delay policy. Ask if you will receive compensation if your flight is canceled or delayed because of a lack of air traffic controllers. Similarly, check your travel insurance policy to see if such disturbances are covered.

Other air travel-related issues included delays in passport and Global Entry processing.

National Parks—including visitor centers, campgrounds, research facilities and museums—will also be closed during a government shutdown. If you have an upcoming trip to a National Park, it may be a good idea to look at nearby attractions as alternatives.

Last week, the U.S. Travel Association said a federal government shutdown could cost the travel economy $140 million each day. The association also found that 60 percent of Americans would cancel or avoid trips by air in the event of a shutdown.

Coinciding with the federal budget deadline, the FAA's authorization is set to expire on September 30. Congress has yet to pass a full FAA reauthorization bill, despite a version passing in the House of Representatives in June. Inaction on an FAA renewal bill, says U.S. Travel, would further compound challenges for travelers.

If a deal is not reached, the official shutdown would begin Sunday, October 1.

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