SPOKANE, Wash. — Amid the partial government shutdown affecting various types of airport employees, both local and federal officials said that operations at Spokane International airport have not been impacted.
The jobs of both TSA screening staff and FAA-operated air traffic controller staff are considered to be essential and the employees are expected to work without pay. Despite that, both flights and wait times in Spokane appear to be normal.
Nationwide, TSA has acknowledged an increase in employees calling out sick since the start of the holiday season, but has said that the call outs are normal and aren't impacting operations. CNN had reported that some of the call-outs were in line with the shutdown, and said that some major airports reported dozens of TSA employees calling out sick. In Dallas, for example, TSA employees calling out sick increased by 200%-300%, according to the network.
At Spokane International, the situation appeared to be far different.
"[The airport] has not seen any delays in passenger screening as a result of the shutdown of the Federal government," said Todd Woodard, an airport spokesman.
James Gregory, a public affairs official with TSA, emphasized that wait times nationwide were within agency standards.
"No airports have reported any upticks in call outs to my knowledge," said Gregory in an email to KREM, adding that the CNN report was "misleading." "We did acknowledge that call-outs began over the holiday period and have increased, as they always do, but that they are causing minimal impact."
Gregory added that TSA, for security reasons, wasn't able to provide numbers on how many employees had called out sick. Average wait times weren't available for Spokane International, but security lines appeared to be moving smoothly on Monday afternoon.
"280 miles away in Seattle, however, wait times for standard screening passengers was only 20 minutes and three minutes for TSA Precheck passengers, well within TSA standards," Gregory said.
The shutdown didn't appear to be affecting air traffic control operations in Spokane either.
"The traveling public can be assured that our nation’s airspace system is fully safe and operational, including Spokane," said Greg Martin, an FAA spokesman, in an email to KREM. "Air traffic controllers and the technicians who maintain the system and its safety are on the job. We have not experienced broad levels of sick leave that would disrupt operations."
While security remained smooth in Spokane, some passengers arriving from other major airports observed changes elsewhere due to the shutdown.
"We're pretty frequent travelers. And I feel like security has been a lot more lackadaisical since our travel this holiday season," said Angela Garinger, a traveler at Spokane International.
Garinger and her family were en route to British Columbia after vacationing in Mexico. The family's flight plan included stops at airports in Portland and San Diego.
"We've noticed a lot more leniency," said Chris, Garinger's husband. "Don't take out your laptop, your iPads, liquids. Nobody was really kind of paying attention to that kind of thing."
In a statement, TSA noted that security effectiveness is not being compromised and performance standards aren't changing due to the shutdown.
"TSA is grateful to the agents who show up to work, remain focused on the mission and respectful to the traveling public as they continue the important work necessary to secure the nation's transportation systems," the agency said.
"I sympathize with them," said Garinger. "All employment is transactional. If you're not getting paid for what you're doing, I can't imagine that you have a lot of motivation to do it."