Faced with the prospect of working for free during the partial government shutdown, hundreds of officers from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been calling in sick to work, leaving airports short-staffed and rattled during one of the busiest times of the year.
Though the scores of workers calling in sick aren't actually ill, their coordinated effort has been branded "blue flu," owing to the color of officers' uniforms. While the government stalls in limbo over a decision to fund a $5 billion wall on the southern border, agents are seeing their livelihoods hang in the balance. As a result, some airports have been consumed with long lines, with only a few employees able to provide security amid the swelling crowds.
Dallas Ft. Worth International, the largest hub of American Airlines, was hit hard on Friday, About 5.5 percent of its TSA workers called in sick on Friday, as a post-holiday influx of passengers crowded the airport. The usual number of sick TSA workers calling in at the airport is 3.3 percent, . The reportedly surging crowds at some airports are typical during the post-holiday period, which is historically busy, Bilelo said.
There've been similar situations at and at New York City's La Guardia International, where snaking queues built up with limited officers there to handle the crowds on Sunday, . Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, that as many as 170 TSA workers called out sick at NYC's John F. Kennedy International last week.
The TSA also noted on Friday that employees began calling out sick en masse during the holidays. The issue has had a minimal effect on screening passengers across the nation's airpots, the agency says.
On Monday, the agency noted that 2.2 million passengers were screened the day before, with an average wait time of 30 minutes. It also praised the "51,000 agents across the country who remain focused on the mission and are respectful to the traveling public."
While the shutdown stretches into its third week, some TSA officers are understandably anxious over the impasse and how it might affect their abilities to pay mortgages, balance credit cards, and fill up their gas tanks.
Brian Turner, a Philadelphia TSA officer, told NBC:
"We have a mortgage payment. We have credit card payments. We have car payments. Utilities. And we also have child care. So with half of our income gone, it is very concerning."
The next scheduled pay date for TSA workers, who comprise 51,000 of the total 420,000 federal government employees affected by the shutdown, is January 15.