The massive lines at the airport happened as the partial government shutdown entered its third week and callouts by agents with the Transportation Security Administration ticked up, according to statistics from the agency.
The New York Times and CNN report that the number of screeners calling in sick is unusually high at some big airports, including Dallas Fort-Worth and Kennedy in New York. Other workers were forced to cover the shifts by working extra hours.
How did the DHS respond?That means TSA officials at airports around the country - cognizant that long security lines frustrate passengers - could have tough decisions to make, including whether to let passengers board flights with less scrutiny. The statement said wait times "may be affected" but so far "remain well within TSA standards".
One unnamed federal official said the call-outs seemed to be part of a coordinated protest, but union officials said many employees who called out sick were most likely looking for alternative employment to make up for lost wages. The official said some union members can not pay for child care, while others are taking temporary jobs to earn the cash needed to pay bills. "They're not saying, 'We're going to shut things down.' They are the lowest-paid employees in the federal government, and they don't have the money to get to work".
Hundreds of TSA officers called out from work this week at some major airports. "We continue to closely monitor the situation and to work with our TSA counterparts". "Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance stands will not change".
The Transportation Security Administration said in a Friday tweet that call outs that began over the holiday period are on the rise but the impact has been "minimal".More news: USA deploys troops to Gabon amid fears of unrest in DR Congo
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Still, wait times at the airport never exceeded 25 minutes, he added, precheck travelers never waited longer than 8 minutes.
The president is meeting with a group this weekend he assembled to tackle the issue and hopefully find a solution.
Thomas' union represents some 55,000 TSA employees, who screen approximately 800 million fliers a year; he is based at JFK.
'To date, however, screening wait times remain well within TSA standards.
His angry response was followed by an official statement from the TSA which admitted more workers than usual were quoting illness when taking days off, but appeared to put it down the holiday season. For security reasons, the agency doesn't release specific staffing numbers.