Flights are still landing, bags are being checked, but TSA workers are not being paid.
As the government shutdown nears week three, federal jobs are being affected, including workers at Peoria International Airport.
It’s a reality that’s causing concern for fliers who are wondering how this could impact their safety. Some have asked 25 News if or even when, the shutdown could frustrate TSA agents to the point of calling out sick to protest, like others across the country, or worse, ease up on security.
“We’re just thankful for their attitude and their willingness to come in and work”, says Gene Olson, ‘Director of Airports’ for PIA.
The shutdown continues to span a record setting 21 days, while the men and women who protect Central Illinois residents and thousands of visitors each day, by thoroughly checking luggage, screening travelers and tons of other duties, work for free.
Olson acknowledges their unique role and does not take it for granted. “It takes specialized training. You can’t just swap these people out for Joe on the street.”
Although technically TSA workers at PIA are not Olsen’s employees because they work for the Federal gov’t, he explains their interactions are plentiful, and takes every opportunity to thank them.
As for PIA customers, he says – for now- they have nothing to worry about, reassuring everyone “We’re not seeing any kind of daily impact.”
Despite what they are seeing at other international airports, Olson says Peoria TSA is fully staffed, but still acknowledges…that could change.
Switching from a reassuring tone to one of empathy, Olson shared another unfortunate reality. “They’re gonna get to the point where they’re not gonna be able to buy gas to get here.”
“Not knowing when they might be getting another paycheck is very scary to me.” Linda King, a non-federal employee who works just a few hundred feet from airport security, shared her own concerns.
King is the GM of Hanger Too, a restaurant inside the airport that has now swapped their general ‘30% off food’ discount, geared toward airport personnel, and offers entirely free meals for TSA workers.
King and her staff say it’s the least they can do for the department that maintains crucial safety.
“What you’re talking about… is how many dollars do these people have in their savings account.” Olson continued to put the situation in perspective for those who still believe the government shutdown is only affecting Washington D.C.
Now the lingering question remains, ‘what does happen if TSA employees stop coming?
The answer isn’t a complicated one. “If we did not have TSA screeners, it would shut the airport down.” stated Olson.
Overall most PIA employees are insulated. Departments like Airport Authority are funded locally through landing fees and other charges. But FAA Air Traffic Controllers, the Border and Customs Specialist and of course TSA, are not so lucky.
Olsen doesn’t ‘think’ the shutdown will continue to the point where TSA workers don’t show up, but in the meantime, he emphasizes, how a little encouragement, goes a long way. “If you wanna get a personal face on it, just come travel through the airport and tell them ‘thank you’ when you come through.”
The National TSA website is not being updated currently. A message stating the following appears at the top ‘Due to the lapse in federal funding this website will not actively be managed. This website was last updated on December 21, 2018 and will not be updated until after funding is an active. As such, information on this website may not be up-to-date. Transactions submitted via this website might not be processed, but we will not be able to respond to inquiries until after appropriations are enacted.”