Air and rail travellers in the United States should not feel a big impact if Congress fails to avert a government shutdown on Tuesday, since passport inspectors, security officers and air-traffic controllers will all continue to work as usual.
The Department of Homeland Security said most employees of the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection are exempt from furloughs that will be put in place if the government shuts down.
As a result, screening of passengers at airport checkpoints will continue as usual. On the other end of the flight, agents will still be staffing passport controls at U.S. borders and points of entry.
Visas for foreigners who want to travel to the United States will still be processed and issued.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s air-traffic controllers will also continue their normal activities so flights should not be disrupted, the agency said. FAA inspectors will still conduct inspections in the field and medical certification for pilots and air-traffic controllers will continue.
Some FAA staff will be furloughed, though. As a result, training for new air-traffic controllers will be suspended, as will aviation rule making.
Development of “NextGen,” the U.S. air-traffic control system that aims to help airlines better navigate crowded routes, will also be suspended, according to the Department of Transportation.
The department said NextGen development and testing will be suspended, as will development of NextGen safety standards. NextGen is a staged program that will shift air-traffic control systems to global positioning satellites from radar and requires about $1-billion (U.S.) a year in federal investment.
In case of a major transportation accident, the National Transportation Safety Board will decide on a case-by-case basis whether it will launch an investigation immediately.
A spokeswoman said if there are “life safety” issues involved then NTSB would send out investigators. On Monday, the agency said it was sending investigators to the site of a commuter train crash in Chicago.
The rail service Amtrak, which is not a federal agency but which does receive federal funding, said it will continue normal operations of its national intercity and high-speed passenger rail network in the event of a short-term shut down.
Even though travellers may not see many disruptions, a shutdown could have a longer-term economic impact, said the chief of the U.S. Travel Association, which represents all components of the travel industry.
“We are concerned that federal agencies will quickly be forced to implement shutdown policies that will damage the travel experience and derail long-term bipartisan investments in our travel infrastructure,” said Roger Dow, president of U.S. Travel.
What about attractions?
Washington’s paralysis will be felt early on at national parks. All park services will close and campers will have 48 hours to leave their sites. Many parks, such as Yellowstone, will close to traffic, and some will become completely inaccessible. Smithsonian museums in Washington will close and so will the zoo.
The Statue of Liberty in New York, the loop road at Acadia National Park in Maine, Skyline Drive in Virginia, and Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, will be off limits. At Grand Canyon National Park, people will be turned back from entrance gates and overlooks will be cordoned off along a state road inside the park that will remain open.
At parks where access is not controlled by gates or entrance stations, people can continue to drive, bike and hike. It’s not likely people will be shooed off the Appalachian Trail, for example, and parks with highways running through them, such as the Great Smokies, also are likely to be accessible. Officials won’t be scouring the entire Grand Canyon park looking for people; those already hiking or camping in the back country and rafting on the Colorado River will be able to complete their trips. The care and feeding of the National Zoo’s animals will all go on as usual.
With files from the Associated Press.