The United States is currently facing the threat of a government shutdown if Congress does not secure funding by the impending deadline of November 17.
This situation could notably affect holiday travel, especially as about 117 million American adults are estimated planning to travel for Thanksgiving this year.
Despite the urgent need for a resolution, as of the latest updates, the Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives has not shown an inclination to approve the necessary funding, either through a dozen appropriation bills or a continuing resolution extending beyond the deadline, according to information from Reuters.
Tori Emerson Barnes, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy at the U.S. Travel Association, has highlighted the potential challenges that a shutdown could pose during a critical travel season.
She warns that a shutdown could disrupt travel processes and cost the travel economy up to $140 million daily, totaling nearly a billion dollars a week in lost spending, a scenario she describes as both unnecessary and unacceptable.
In the event of a shutdown, several government services crucial to travel could be impacted, including operations in national parks, processing of passport and Global Entry memberships, among others. Here are some key aspects travelers should be aware of:
Impact on Trusted Traveler Programs and Passport Services
Programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, managed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security, could see delays in processing applications.
Currently, Global Entry applications take around four to six months to process, and TSA PreCheck applications are usually processed within three to five days under normal government operations.
The U.S. Department of State has noted improvements in passport processing times.
However, in the event of a funding pause, these times could be affected. Travelers are advised to apply for or renew passports and Trusted Traveler program memberships well in advance, as many countries require passports to have a minimum validity of three to six months for entry.
Potential TSA and Air Traffic Disruptions
A funding delay might also result in reduced staffing of TSA agents at airports, increasing wait times.
The 2018-2019 shutdown, which lasted 35 days, saw canceled flights and closed TSA security lines due to staff shortages. With the Sunday after Thanksgiving being the busiest travel day of the year, such staffing issues could lead to significant disruptions.
National Parks and Federal Sites
The National Park Service, part of the Department of the Interior, relies on Congressional funding.
A shutdown could mean limited access to parks, with essentials like visitor centers, restrooms, and educational programs potentially closed. While some parks might remain accessible, reduced staffing would affect overall safety and services.
Historically, states and private entities have sometimes stepped in to keep parks operational during shutdowns. For instance, in 2018, the Arizona government funded the Grand Canyon's operations to keep it open.
Washington D.C. Monuments and Museums
Monuments and museums in Washington, D.C., especially those under the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service, would face closure risks.
During the last major shutdown, the Smithsonian museums and galleries, including the National Zoo, closed for 24 days after depleting their available funds.
Advisory for Travelers
Given the potential for a government shutdown, it's advisable for travelers to expedite any necessary government document applications or renewals needed for travel. While the hope remains that the government will avoid a shutdown, being prepared for any eventuality is crucial for a hassle-free travel experience.