Testifying before the U.S. Senate last month about the possible effects of the Sequester budget cuts, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made a somber, sobering prediction. “Reduced CBP (Customs and Border Protection) staffing would make 4 to 5 hour wait times commonplace and cause the busiest ports to face gridlock situations at peak periods,” she announced. “In addition, furloughs of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Transportation Security Officers would substantially increase airline passenger wait times by as much as an hour at the nation’s largest and busiest airports. Such delays would affect air travel significantly, potentially causing thousands of passengers to miss flights with negative economic consequences at both the local and national levels.”
For anyone planning to take a cruise or a plane flight soon, this is certainly a troubling prospect. Who needs to wait so much longer at the port or the airport? And who wants to worry about missing a flight because you’re stuck in a long, slow line? Maybe—some travelers have already pondered—it’s time to reconsider even taking that much-anticipated cruise or overseas trip.
But, let’s look at this a little more closely. Will these cuts really affect travelers that severely?
With all due respect to Secretary Napolitano, the Executive Branch of government routinely pressures Congress to act on travel-related issues by creating fear about travel delays.
Let’s take a closer look at the furlough issue. While some other estimates are much lower (between 7 and 9 days a year per employee), Napolitano estimates that, because of the cuts, personnel at ports and airports could be furloughed for up to 14 days a year. Using her worst-case scenario, this comes to 9.3 hours a month—or about 25 minutes per day per employee.
There are many ways to implement this furlough, of course. But, it is hard to believe that having TSA employees furloughed 25 minutes a day will cause massive delays in security. If properly managed, and by requiring TSA employees to streamline processes and work to keep the lines moving, travelers will likely see little or no impact from the budget cuts. Assume, for example, that 20 TSA employees work a shift at a single terminal at a major international airport. The budget cuts would mean that there would be 1 less employee a day with 19 left to work the lines and that the lines would run about 5% more slowly. Instead of taking 30 minutes to get through security, for example, it would take 31.5 minutes.
Often, travelers can speed their trip through security stations by taking a few simple steps beforehand. Wearing slip-on shoes instead of shoes with laces, for example, saves 1 to 2 minutes right there.
My bottom line is that I honestly don’t believe that—even if they do go into full effect—the Sequester budget cuts will significantly affect travel opportunities or even convenience. So, if you are planning a cruise or overseas trip this year, then, by all means, go on planning!
If you have any thoughts or questions about this issue, feel free to comment. We would love to hear from you!