Congress approved a stopgap funding bill in September — which led to the ousting of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — and extended federal funding through November 17.
That day, which is the Friday before Thanksgiving week, is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of travelers through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and tens of thousands through airport security checkpoints in Atlanta.
In fact, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines expects next Friday to be the busiest day of the Thanksgiving travel period at Hartsfield-Jackson, as travelers set off for long holiday trips. The holiday rush will continue for the following week and a half.
If Congress does not approve new funding, come November 18 non-essential federal workers would be sent home. Essential workers — including TSA officers and air traffic controllers — would have to continue to work but would not be paid during the shutdown.
“We have seven days,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, an Atlanta Democrat who spoke at the union rally outside the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson on Friday. “We were sent home because Republicans didn’t have the votes to pass one of the appropriations bills.”
If there is a shutdown, “It affects people traveling for the holidays” at Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport, and elsewhere, Williams said. “The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest travel weekends of the years,” and the implications for travelers would extend across the country.
For government employees, going without a paycheck is untenable for many who still have to make rent payments and pay their bills, workers and union representatives say.
“Those workers won’t be able to put food on their table, take care of their families, or feel secure — knowing that that government doesn’t have their back by going into the shutdown,” Barker said. “A shutdown is an insult to all federal workers. ... It’s time for Congress to do their jobs.”
The union called for passage of legislation for more TSA funding and for Congress to come to agreement to avoid a government shutdown.
“I’m going back to Washington Monday morning,” WiIliams said. “We’re gonna stay there until something is done.”
During the last federal shutdown that started in late December 2018 and continued into January 2019, many travelers ended up waiting in security lines as long as an hour and a half at Hartsfield-Jackson, in some cases missing their flights.
Some federal workers, experiencing financial hardship after going without pay, lined up for free food from the Atlanta Community Food Bank and started calling out from the job or quitting.
If that happens again, it would exacerbate already long waits that have plagued Hartsfield-Jackson during busy periods in recent months, with wait times more than an hour long at times.
A parking shortage at Hartsfield-Jackson has also led to delays for some travelers who end up circling the airport searching for spots while trying to get to their flights on time.
As a result, Delta is now advising all travelers to get to the Atlanta airport three hours before their flights — instead of the previous recommendation of two hours.
Delta is also preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday period by calling back seasonal workers to help customers with checked bags, wheelchairs and unaccompanied minors. It enlists some of its employees help travelers prepare for screening at checkpoints.
The biggest crowds of the Thanksgiving period are expected Friday, November 17, as well as the Sunday and Monday after the holiday, according to Delta’s forecasts.