How A US Government Shutdown Will Impact The Travel Industry

If lawmakers don’t pass a federal budget or stopgap measure within the week, a government shutdown will take effect on October 1st, which could drastically impact the travel industry throughout the country. 

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As the US federal government gets closer to a potential shutdown, the travel industry is preparing for the potential impacts. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated that a shutdown could make the current air traffic control staffing shortage even worse.  In an interview with Politico, Buttigieg stated the shutdown could result in 1,000 air traffic controllers to be furloughed as they’re currently undergoing training. 

“A shutdown would stop all of that progress. It would mean we have to immediately stop training air traffic controllers and furlough 1,000 controllers who are already in the training pipeline,”  Buttigieg told Politico

He added that even if the shutdown lasted for a few days, it would result in a failure to reach staff and hiring targets for next year. Airlines For America has stated that the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control facility is currently only 54% staffed. The FAA told the media that the agency is hoping to hire 1,800 air traffic controllers next year, which would be an increase from the 1,500 controllers hired this year. 

Katy Nastro, a travel expert, told Travel and Leisure magazine about the impact this will have on airline workers.

“The longer it lasts, the bigger the impact we will potentially face as travelers. If I’m a TSA agent, I’m coming to work because I’m essential, but I’m not getting paid. After a certain point – and this happened in 2019 – some people called out sick and it became a bigger problem.” 

Nastro stated that the “breaking point is typically about two weeks. We don’t want this to happen, but the old adage ‘pack your patience’ might come into effect the longer this goes on.” 

National parks will see an immediate impact with a shutdown. Nastro said that about a third of national parks closed down during the 2018 shutdown. 

For example, Arizona’s Governor Katie Hobbs states that she will be providing funding to keep the Grand Canyon National Park open, according to the Arizona Republic. 

“Arizona should not have to suffer because of the federal government’s inaction. The Grand Canyon is a pillar of our state and provides good paying jobs for hundreds of Arizonans while showcasing one of the seven natural wonders of the world to those who visit. I am proud to offer resources to keep the park open and am committed to ensuring Arizonans are protected from Washington’s failure,” Hobbs told the paper. 

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“For the more popular ones, the highly trafficked national parks, those types of parks have contingency plans. But that’s not a guarantee for all of the parks. It’s basically up to the state.”

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It’s not completely clear what national parks would remain open in the event of a shutdown. In 2018, Yellowstone National Park was able to keep welcoming travelers, but closed all government-run operations and facilities, as well as ceased staffing their entrance stations; a similar event could occur at other national parks. 

The US Travel Association stated that a government shutdown may not affect many aspects of travel in an immediate sense. 60% of Americans, however, have stated that they would cancel or avoid trips by air if a shutdown does happen. 

“I think it’s incumbent on us to help people understand the consequences of their decisions. We expect the travel economy will lose $140 million a day because of what’s about to happen,”  U.S. Travel Association CEO Geoff Freeman told reporters at the Skift Global Forum 2023.