Dare I say it? We are now hours away from another major event that could affect travelers. As if the Sequester this summer wasn't bad enough, travelers face more potential trouble when taking to the skies - or even trying to get in and out of the country.
As the New York Times is reporting, the U.S. Government is on the verge of a potential shutdown due to a blockade surrounding a spending plan for the coming fiscal year. The reasons why and how are irrelevant for this blog - a quick Google search will give you analysis as to why and how all of this is happening. But what it relevant to this blog is how a potential shutdown would affect travelers around the world.
At the stroke of Midnight on Tuesday, October 1, we'll know where we stand, if the potential shutdown happens. In the event of a federal government shutdown, these are just some of the issues travelers could have to prepare for:
- Travel security will remain in place - without pay
In the result of a government shutdown, government employees will be sorted into two categories: "essential" and "non-essential" personnel. Eli Epstein for MSN News defines essential personnel as: "...the approximate one-third of the federal work force who 'provide for the national security' or for the 'safety of life and property.'" Among these groups are uniformed military, Customs and Border Protection officers, Transportation Security Administration agents, and air traffic controllers. TSA Press Secretary Ross Feinstein confirmed that TSA officers would remain on duty in a tweet on Sunday. While these jobs will not be compromised, they will be working without pay until the shutdown is resolved.
- Passport and Visa processing will come to a halt
While operations will continue at all of the United States' border crossings by land, air, or sea, the federal employees in charge of processing U.S. Passports and Visas are considered "non-essential personnel." Because these employees are considered "non-essential," they will be indefinitely furloughed until the government shutdown comes to an end. NPR reports that during the last government shutdown (November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996), 200,000 pending passport applications were not processed, and 30,000 applications for Visas to enter the United States would not be processsed every day of a shutdown. For visitors to the United States who are seeking to enter, or student travelers who need to renew their Visas to continue their studies in the United States, a government shutdown could mean major troubles.
Update - 5:07 PM, 9/30/2013: CNN now reports that consular operations will remain open at the Department of State: "...people would be able to get visas and passports. However, there is an exception is for passport offices that are located in buildings that are otherwise shutdown, so some people may see delays in their applications." If you have a Visa application, check with your consulate office to make sure that it will be open in the event of a government shutdown. If you are applying for a passport, be prepared for delays if your office is potentially closed as a result of a shutdown.
- Tourism destinations may not be available during a shutdown
Also considered under "non-essential personnel" are those who keep some of the biggest tourism attractions alive in the United States. Institutions like National Monuments, Federal Parks, and the Smithsonian would all go dark as a result of the federal government shutdown. In total, CNN reports 368 National Parks sites could close during a government shutdown - turning away millions of visitors per day. The Capitol building, however would remain open in the event that the government were forced to close for a period of time. Keeping some of America's grandest attractions dark (like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite) could inevitably ruin vacation plans for many travelers in the United States and around the world.
Update - 5:14 PM, 9/30/2013: CNN.com has published a list of federal resources that would be affected by a shutdown. The Smithsonian, the National Zoo, American Battle Monuments, and the National Art Gallery would all close in the event of a shutdown. The Kennedy Center, however, would remain open. As published by CNN: "In the event of a shutdown, the Kennedy Center will continue its nonappropriated functions and honor all nonappropriated fund contracts, including planned performances [and] educational activities..." If you plan on visiting a federal monument, check to make sure they will be open before you go.
So once again, travelers are subjected to the risk of trip delay and trip cancellation. But unlike the Sequester earlier this year, travelers are also subject to a new risk: not being able to have their Visa processed as a result of government closings. This isn't to mention those applying for Trusted Traveler programs across the borders (such as Global Entry, NEXUS, or Sentri) will inevitably be delayed as a result of this situation.
Only time will tell if these delays will come to pass. But by Tuesday night at Midnight, if the government shutdown happens, a lot of people will have to start consdiering alternate plans. Are you concerned about how a shutdown would affect your plans? Leave me a comment below on how you plan on staying flexible through these changes!