• Passengers at Sea-Tac miss flights as TSA agents call out sick amid government shutdown

    By: Deedee Sun , KIRO 7 News Staff

    Updated:

    It's the end of day 16 of the partial government shutdown. And the impact of hundreds of thousands of federal employees not getting paid is taking a toll at Sea-Tac Airport.

    TSA union officials say some agents are simply calling out sick, which at some airports is causing delays in the security process for passengers.

    Perry Cooper, spokesman for Sea-Tac Airport, says the wait times for security clearances was never more than 25 minutes on Sunday. He says the standard recommendation for arriving to the airport remains unchanged. Passengers on domestic flights should arrive two hours early; international passengers should arrive three hours before their flights.

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    Sea-Tac was already dealing with a shortage of TSA agents before the government shutdown.

    Now, the situation is worse. Some have already quit since the shutdown started.

    As others continue to work without pay, more are calling in sick.

    At New York’s JFK International Airport, as many as 170 TSA employees have called out each day this week.

    The number of people calling out sick have increased by 200 percent to 300 percent at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

    As of Saturday night, KIRO 7 was still waiting to hear back for numbers at Sea-Tac International Airport, but airport and airline employees say they've noticed fewer agents and longer lines.

    Sarah Burgisser works for one of the airlines.

    She said early Saturday morning, passengers were waiting hours to get through security.

    “It was a huge line,” Burgisser said. “I think it was just one guy who came to work.” 

    “Did anyone miss their flight because of the unexpected long lines?” KIRO 7’s Deedee Sun asked.

    “When I was working last night, yeah, for sure. A lot, a lot of passengers,” Burgisser said. “I really feel sorry. We had to close the flight to be on time. Because - we give them a couple of minutes, but we can’t wait forever,” she said.

    Other airport employees called the situation unmanageable and said frantic passengers were left crying in line.

    Worry about those long lines had some people opting to fly non-peak hours on Saturday night.

    “To hopefully avoid some of the congestion,” said Cara Gross, who was flying to Montana. “It’s still busier than we thought."

    Airport employees are warning travelers to plan ahead.

    “Your ticket may say get here three hours early, [but] I say get here five hours early,” said Valante Weems, an employee at Sea-Tac.

    The shutdown continues as President Donald Trump and Congress are unable to reach an agreement.

    The president doubled down on his demands for $5.6 billion to fund a border wall Saturday, tweeting:

    "I don't care that most of the workers not getting paid are democrats, I want to stop the shutdown as soon as we are in agreement on strong border security!"

    The American Federation of Government Employees is suing to force the federal government to pay them during the shutdown.

    TSA said in a statement that it is “closely monitoring the situation.”

    It acknowledged that call-outs started over the holiday season and have increased, but said they are causing minimal impact.

    It said security and performance standards will not change, but wait times may be affected depending on the number of call outs.

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