As you have probably heard, Congressional leadership and the White House have been unable to reach an agreement on a government funding bill. And as a result, lots of our clients are wondering whether there will be any impact on their upcoming travels, since the federal government has partially shut down with the expiration of appropriations legislation to fund it.
Of course, some funding measures, which were previously passed, ensure that about three-quarters of the government will continue to operate during this shutdown. But the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury, NASA and the Food and Drug Administration are all among those whose funding has lapsed. Approximately 380,000 workers have been furloughed while another 420,000 deemed “essential” to national security and protection of life and property are continuing to work without pay. Of course, the impact of the partial shutdown varies by federal agency depending on how many of its employees are deemed “essential,” but we’re paying close attention to exactly where and how our clients’ travels might be affected.
So, what does all this mean for the travel industry? Well, at least in the short term, basic functions related to travel continue without interruption. However, there will be some immediate impact for travelers, including possible delays in passport processing, the closure of national parks and federally-run museums. One thing’s for sure, though—the longer the shutdown persists, the greater the likelihood that travel will be disrupted.
We’re monitoring all of this in order to take care of our clients, but if you’re planning a trip soon, here’s a summary of federal functions related to travel and their current status.
Air Traffic Control: According to U.S. Department of Transportation guidance, air traffic controllers, flight safety inspectors and other essential safety employees will stay on the job.
Airport Security: A U.S. Department of Homeland Security plan provides that airport security personnel such as Transportation Security Administration screeners are considered “necessary for safety of life and protection of property.” So, travelers should see little change in airport security operations. On the other hand, since airport screeners aren’t being paid, it’s not exactly a sustainable situation over the long-haul.
Customs/Immigration: Most customs, border and immigration employees are considered essential, which means passport control at U.S. borders and points of entry like airports and cruise ports should be unaffected by the shutdown.
Passports/Visas: Huckleberry Travel is recommending that our clients apply for a passport renewal as soon as possible for any traveler that has a passport that’s expiring in the next 6 to 8 months, or for anyone who lives in a state that has not yet adopted Real ID compliant drivers licenses. According to their most recent statement, the State Department will continue to offer passport services during the lapse of appropriations for the federal government, with processing times remain the same: 4-6 weeks for routine service and 2-3 weeks for expedited service. Because visa processing is funded by application fees and not appropriations, visa applications will continue to be processed “as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations”. Since we’re not really sure what that’s going to look like, we’re telling our clients to renew now. Better safe than sorry.
National Parks/Museums: According to the Department of Interior, many national parks are closed completely while some remain accessible to visitors. For most parks, National Park Service-provided visitor services, such as restrooms, trash collection, facilities, or road maintenance will not be provided, while visitor services provided by concessioners or other outside entities may continue. So, even if the park is open, your travel experience might not be ideal if trash bins are overflowing and visitor services are unavailable. We’re warning our clients that access or services may change without notice, and recommending back-up or contingency plans. As of January 2, the Smithsonian announced that all 19 of its museums and the National Zoo were closed because of the shutdown, so if you were planning to visit those incredible museums, it’s a no-go for the time being.
We’ll continue to monitor the status for all of our clients, and, of course, when you book with us, we’re prepared to assist you when you’re traveling. We think it’s another good reason to plan your vacations with a professional travel advisor, so if you’d like us to help plan something for you, just let us know!