How Would a Government Shutdown Affect Travel?

Jan 19, 2018

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Five years after the 2013 government shutdown, the US is on the verge of another closure, because Congress can’t agree on a budget. Democrats and Republicans are attempting to come to a compromise by Friday night to keep government agencies open for the short term, but it’s not looking bright. Shutdown looms at midnight, Eastern time.

Even if the government shuts down most essential services will continue to operate — social security checks will still be sent out, and the military won’t be abandoning their posts.

But what about travel? The government controls and funds agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control, or the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Transportation Security Agency. Without the FAA directing your flight and the TSA checking who boards it, you are not flying anywhere within or from the United States of America. And without Customs and Border Protection officers — also part of Homeland Security — at airports and entry posts, no one would get into the US, either.

So what will happen to travel if the government does shut down? For the most part, essential services related to travel would be assured, but there still could be some changes — we’ve rounded up how things may operate after midnight between Friday and Saturday.

Air and Train Travel

If you’re traveling through an airport, you probably won’t notice much of a difference. According to NPR, air traffic controllers, TSA and Customs and Border Protection agents will continue working. The government makes sure they stay working since they’re vital to safety, just as it did during the 2013 shutdown. During that last government shutdown, the TSA told TPG that security lines would not be much slower than normal since most frontline officers are considered essential. The Hill reports that “most of the [FAA] agency’s aviation safety inspectors would keep working.”

Amtrak, which is partly funded by the government, will operate as normal.

Passports and Global Entry

Passport and visa issuance and renewal would likely proceed, but with some delays, if things go like they did in 2013, says CNBC. The service is partially funded by application and renewal fees, making it more insulated from government budgets. 

However, at least one TPG reader received an email from the Global Entry Enrollment Office at New York’s JFK airport stating that all interviews had been cancelled for Saturday due to the shutdown:

Prior to the shutdown, a spokesman from Customs and Border Protection sent TPG this statement: “The dedicated men and women of DHS are fully prepared to protect the homeland and keep Americans safe should a lapse in government funding occur. Nearly 90 percent of all DHS personnel are considered essential staff and will continue to perform their duties in the event of a government shutdown. We urge Congress to fully fund DHS in order to pay the federal employees on the front lines defending our nation.”

National Parks and Museums

Government-controlled museums in Washington, DC like the Smithsonian will stay open through the weekend, but if funding hasn’t been figured out by Monday, they will shut their doors. New York City Smithsonian institutions will be closed by Saturday. 

In 2013, national parks and monuments were closed immediately, but this time around could be different. 

“In the event of a shutdown, national parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement carried by the Washington Post.

The Interior Department is attempting to avoid the same mess seen in 2013, which included a group of veterans knocking over the barricades to the World War II Memorial in Washington. 

“Visitors who come to our nation’s capital will find war memorials and open-air parks open to the public. Nationally, many of our national parks, refuges and other public lands will still allow limited access wherever possible,” said Swift.

How Can Credit Cards Protect You?

Many credit cards offer travel insurance in the case of sickness or serious weather. While it’s unlikely that a government shutdown would qualify as an event triggering trip delay or cancellation insurance, it may be worth submitting a claim if your travel plans are legitimately affected by the shutdown. For example, you may have booked a campsite in a national park with your credit card, but you find next week that the park’s entrances are shut and your campsite is inaccessible.

The 2013 shutdown also provided issues for credit card applications, as a small percentage of applications that required IRS income verification were slowed down, since the IRS’s income verification office was closed.

Featured image by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

This story has been updated to include details about the temporary closure of the JFK Global Entry Enrollment office.

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