How to Painlessly Navigate Airports During the Government Shutdown
Rule 1: Don't fly through Houston
Today makes 24 days of government shutdown.
It’s a national record, and more than 800,000 Americans are currently without pay. Included in that number? 51,000 TSA officers, of whom a whopping 5.6% called in sick this past Saturday.
TSA employees are about as essential as personnel can get. A world without proper airport security teeters on chaos, and the fact that so many of them are still showing up for unpaid work (at a post that normally ranges between $23-43K in annual income, mind you) is heroic.
If you’re traveling anytime soon, and the shutdown continues to drone on, be prepared for an irregular airport experience. Some developments, like JFK blaring explicit Kanye West and Travis Scott songs, are just plain wacky. (The TSA generally serves up some inoffensive elevator music.) Others, like Houston closing down an entire TSA checkpoint in Terminal B due to inadequate staffing, are soul-crushing.
Which is why we decided to put together a brief guide for those outbound during the government shutdown. Which could last “years,” according to our squabbler in chief. Our advice, below.
1. Try to get there three hours before your flight
Your timeliness is entirely up to you. Budget for traffic. Schedule your Uber (you can totally do that now) so you’re locked in to head for the airport at a non-negotiable time. If it’s a morning flight, get up earlier. If it’s a post-work flight, don’t try to finish your massive project at the office. Set up a hotspot once you reach your gate, and look into flying on a carrier with actual, breathing wifi. Top airlines on that beat include Southwest, Virgin Atlantic and JetBlue.
2. Don’t rely on a kind TSA employee to escort you to the front of security
I flew from Newark to San Fran the other day and was stunned by the patience/mercy of a TSA officer who ushered 10 or 12 crazy late travelers to the front of the line. This benevolence will not last, people — especially not when these employees are working for free. Simplify the whole process and get to security early. Check-in the night before, print your ticket and don’t check a bag (if you have to, print a baggage tag then find the proper bag drop-off to avoid the line).
3. Dress for the flight you want to make
If you’re flying on business, we recommend picking up a suit expressly tailored to jet-setters from Suitsupply. Check out the timeless Havana in Navy. If you’re just, ya know, heading somewhere, go full functional comfy. It’ll get you through security quicker, and brighten you up during what will be a less than ideal travel day. We’re partial to Mack Weldon’s athleisure pants, along with a pair of easily-slipped-off pair of sneaks from Native.
4. Avoid Houston. And Atlanta and Miami and DC.
As we mentioned earlier, Houston’s George Bush Airport shut down TSA checkpoints for an entire terminal. Not good. If you’re from the area, book flights at odd times of the day (think pre-6 a.m.) and if you’re not, well, your big Houston pilgrimage can wait a couple of months. Other airports really feeling the pinch right now include Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, Miami International and Washington Dulles International. The lines in Atlanta look insane, and while Miami/Dulles have both calmed down, it’s clear that early struggles could easily come back, especially as employees taking unscheduled absences are those most likely to quit.
5. Look into alternative security solutions
Right now might not be the best time to apply for TSA Pre-Check, if only because the process involves an in-person appointment. We’d suggest calling ahead to see if your local airport’s TSA is still taking those meetings during the shutdown. If so, you can apply here. In November 2018, 93% of TSA Pre-Check members breezed through security in less than five minutes. Other ways to approach this: look into privatized CLEAR. It’s way more expensive ($149 a year, opposed to TSA Pre’s $85 over five years) and importantly, is not mutually exclusive from TSA Pre. CLEAR scoots you through the ID-check line, not the security checkpoint. (It uses biometric scanning, and is available in 24 airports.) If you afford to sign up for both, you could conceivably skip both lines and get to your gate that much quicker.
Image via Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport