Napolitano: Sequestration will increase wait times at airports & cruise terminals
Sequestration will force the Department of Homeland Security to cut the work hours of transportation security personnel, leading to longer wait times at airports and cruise terminals, according to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Napolitano urged lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan and balanced deficit reduction plan to avert the sequestration – or the $1.2 trillion across-the-board cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary programs imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 – scheduled to take effect on March 1st.
Napolitano warned that sequestration “would have serious immediate consequences” to the U.S. travel industry due to mandatory furloughs – or unpaid temporary leave – of DHS employees, including Customs and Border Patrol agents and transportation security officers.
The average wait time to go through customs at major U.S. international airports – such as JFK, Newark, Chicago O’Hare, and LAX – is projected to increase by 50%, from the current 2 hours during peak periods to 4 hours or more if the sequester cuts take effect.
The wait time to clear security checks for domestic flights could be another hour longer. Delta Airline already recommends travelers to arrive at the airport at least 75 minutes before a flight’s scheduled departure time; with the increased security wait time, this means travelers will be expected to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours and 15 minutes before their flight’s departure.
In addition, DHS furloughs will mean longer processing times – up to 6 hours – at cruise terminals.
“Such delays not only would cost thousands of missed passenger connections, they would have severe economic consequences both at the local and national levels,” said Napolitano.
Travelers may face more delays, missed flight connections, and higher costs due to the longer wait times. Napolitano feared that some may opt to delay or cut back on trips to or around the United States, hurting the U.S. tourism industry.
A June 2008 study by the U.S. Travel Association estimated that “deep frustration” felt by air travelers prompted them to avoid trips. The “air travel hassles” cost the travel industry about $26 billion lost revenue during a 12-month period, including $9 billion in losses for airlines, $6 billion in losses for hotels, $3 billion in losses for restaurants, and $4 billion in lost tax revenues for federal, state, and local governments.