LOS ANGELES, October 9, 2013 — While national parks are closing and some national treasures are busy locking the gates, tourism as we know it remains largely unaffected by the draconian standoff in Congress slowly bringing the U.S. government to a deafening halt. Jet travel, car rentals and hotel bookings continue to operate as usual through the shutdown.
There are few reports of TSA delays or longer customs and immigration lines due to the government stoppage. And except for visitors being turned away from grand monuments and wildlife stations out west, the world of travel continues to turn.
If there is a danger at this point, it is not from lack of competent screeners. It would be from faltering aircraft safety inspections and the inadequate manning of aircraft repair stations by government workers who have been furloughed from their positions as federal inspectors.
Delta Air Lines CEO Richard H. Anderson told reporters last week that his airline has not seen any drop of impact from the impasse.
“We haven’t seen any changes in travel demand at all. Travel demand is strong all over the world at the moment,” he told a reporter for the Dallas News.
Indeed, if anything, demand may be up and all airline posts manned for the demand as planes are flying as full as ever, possibly carrying some furloughed federal employees taking advantage of unscheduled days off.
As a reporter for the travel industry, this author had her antennae up during a recent trip to Europe. On the Delta Air Lines flight outbound, security lines moved as usual and a “TSA PreCheck” line had two officers handling the few people in that qualified queue, getting them through the screening in less than five minutes. The return via Air France proved to be just as seamless, despite the fact the shutdown had been in effect for full a week. The speedy arrival at LAX during what would be rush hour on a Sunday afternoon had the plane at the gate on time and some 300 passengers moving through the immigration lines well in time to catch the flight’s first pieces of luggage coming through the carousel.
So while it is, on the surface, business as usual at most U.S. airports, a few looming disruptions do exist: passport agencies are moving in slow motion, federal safety inspector furloughs could contribute to potential cracks in airline safety, national park visits may have to be put off for another season, and some government checks that may have been allocated to one’s travel or vacation budget may be slow to arrive.
What happens as the days turn into weeks is another matter. If the shutdown circus leads to an impasse on the debt ceiling toward a subsequent federal default, there is word from the Federal Reserve that another Recession could follow. That would certainly have an effect on travel as citizens trade Christmas in the Caribbean for protein on the table. Fewer travelers do mean freed middle seats, shorter lines through security and better Travel Tuesday deals from the airlines. And with those lower medical insurance premiums and extra furlough days, it may be a good time to actually check out one of those last-minute Travel Tuesday offers.
Lark Gould is an author of eight books on travel and a journalist who has been covering the travel industry for more than two decades.
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