The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pushed back again on Jan. 9 against reports that the ongoing partial federal government shutdown has led to increased wait-times at airports, saying that call outs and resignations have so far had a “minimal” impact on operations.

“Nationwide, TSA screened 1.73 million passengers yesterday [January 8],” TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said on his Twitter page. “99.9% of passengers waited less than 30 minutes; 94.8% of passengers less than 15 minutes. In TSA Pre-Check lanes, passengers on average waited less than five minutes.”

“Regarding unscheduled absences: Yesterday TSA experienced a rate of 5% compared to a 3.9% unscheduled absence rate one year ago on Jan. 8, 2018.”

But in comments to ATW, Bilello suggested the reason the agency had not encountered major difficulties thus far was because employees haven’t yet missed a paycheck, as their current pay period extends through Jan.11.

However, Bilello left open the possibility that the shutdown would impact wait times if it continues beyond next week. “If we do not get paid on Friday, clearly we’ll be working in a different environment, but I’m not going to speculate on what the impact and what that situation may look like.”

The defensive blitz by TSA comes as groups representing US airports, air traffic controllers, pilots and TSA workers have voiced concerns that the ongoing shutdown has led to longer wait-times at airports because of a wave of TSA employee call outs.

On Jan. 8, the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) wrote a letter to the White House and Congressional leadership imploring them to re-open the federal government, warning that staffing and other resource shortfalls brought on by the shutdown could lead to a “true national crisis” if the standoff continues.

“The shutdown has worsened the existing challenges at some airports with lengthy TSA checkpoint wait times due to the combined effects of insufficient TSA staffing, growing passenger traffic and increased scrutiny of passengers and their carry-on baggage,” ACI-NA president Kevin Burke said, adding that staffing shortages may even lead to the complete closure of some checkpoints.

In addition to staffing issues, airports are “extremely concerned” about the security vulnerability associated with large numbers of travelers waiting in public areas at TSA checkpoints, as well as a “significant increase” in the number of passengers and bags missing their intended flights, Burke said.

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com