How the Ongoing U.S. Government Shutdown Continues to Affect Travelers

Now in its fourth full week, the federal government shutdown over funding disputes for a border wall has deep repercussions for anyone traveling within the United States. Here’s what you need to know.

How the Ongoing U.S. Government Shutdown Continues to Affect Travelers

A sign at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. informs the public why the landmark is closed.

Photo by TJ Brown /

The U.S. federal government shutdown is in its 25th day—officially the longest in U.S. history—after meetings between Democrats and President Trump fail to reach a compromise over the proposed funding of Trump’s Mexican border wall. A government shutdown affects everything from the National Park Service to federally funded museums like the Smithsonian to, yes, even your Global Entry application.

Here’s what you need to know:

National Park Service

Unlike previous government shutdowns, the Trump administration has allowed the gates at many U.S. national parks to remain open even though 21,000 employees (including park rangers) are furloughed and unable to provide any visitor services. Without staff to provide trash collection, restroom cleaning services, and road maintenance, conditions have deteriorated at many parks.

#governmentshutdown #shutdown Quick pic on my bike ride in. That’s the White House in the background. The National Park can’t empty trash cans next to the Washington Monument. — Nick Schwellenbach (@schwellenbach) January 2, 2019

After garbage cans overflowed around the National Mall for weeks, the National Park Service announced that it would resume trash collection and urgent sanitation services on Friday, January 11 using fees collected by national parks across the country under the Federal Lands Recreation Act.

During the shutdown, with Joshua Tree National Park open but no staff on duty, visitors cut down Joshua trees so they could drive into sensitive areas where vehicles are banned. “We had some pretty extensive four-wheel driving.” — John Upton (@johnupton) January 10, 2019

Despite reports of visitors driving off road and defacing the park’s namesake trees without ranger supervision, Joshua Tree National Park and its campgrounds have remained open using revenue from recreation fees. Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, however, remains closed after human feces and urine began to build up along the Highway 41 entrance to the park, according to the Los Angeles Times.

For more information about which national parks are open, visit the individual park’s website.


The Smithsonian managed to keep its museums in Washington, D.C. and New York, plus the National Zoo, open through the holidays thanks to unused “prior-year funds,” but when those ran out they were forced to shut down on Wednesday, January 2. The National Gallery of Art followed suit on Thursday, January 3.

This means that while the animals at the National Zoo will continue to be cared for, visitors won’t be allowed inside to see them. If the shutdown continues through January, an estimated 1.2 million visitors will be turned away from such popular museums as the Air and Space Museum and Natural History Museum in D.C. a Smithsonian spokeswoman told the BBC.

Other federally run museums, including the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., are also closed until the government shutdown ends.

Airports and TSA checkpoints

TSA officers and FAA air traffic controllers are deemed “essential” federal workers and are therefore working without pay during the shutdown. CNN reported that two senior TSA agency officials and three TSA employee union officials said that hundreds of TSA officers are calling out sick from major aiports including JFK and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, causing a potential security threat to travelers and increasingly long lines at checkpoints in some airports.

So I’m at @ATLairport and this may be the longest security line I have ever seen. Even growing up here, and even for a Monday morning. One passenger told me he’d been waiting over an hour and still had about 30 minutes to go. — Omar Jimenez (@OmarJimenezCNN) January 14, 2019

Security lines at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport took more than an hour for passengers to get through on Monday, January 14, while Miami International Airport closed an entire concourse from January 12 to 13 so its other checkpoints could be adequately staffed. Over at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, one security checkpoint and ticket counter in Terminal B will remain closed through Tuesday, January 15 due to staffing shortages.

As federal workers start missing paychecks as the shutdown continues, one TSA agent from South Burlington, Vermont set up a GoFundMe page that has raised $3,360 to support he and his wife, who is also a TSA agent.

Up north, Canadian air traffic controllers have taken it upon themselves to show support for their U.S. counterparts by sending them pizzas while they work their unpaid shifts, Huffington Post Canada reported.

Starting this Wednesday 1/16, WCK opens our #ChefsForFeds kitchen and café for FREE hot meals at 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW near the Navy Memorial for all federal employees in need and their — WorldCentralKitchen (@WCKitchen) January 14, 2019

Over in Washington D.C., chef José Andrés said on Twitter that he and his World Central Kitchen will start serving hot meals on Wednesday, January 16 to federal employees (including TSA agents) who are going without pay during the shutdown.

If you’re flying during the government shutdown, plan on arriving to the airport earlier than usual in case there are longer lines due to the understaffed security points. And please remember: These officers are not getting paid for the work they’re doing until the shutdown ends, so your patience and kindness will go a long way.

Thankful I have two jobs because I’m not getting paid at TSA. But I still have to show up. Which means I have to work both jobs every day, sleeping two to three hours at night, just to not even break even on bills. #ShutdownStories — heather manus (@sinai_selah) December 29, 2018

Global Entry and passport services

The good news is that the U.S. State Department is continuing to process passports during the shutdown. The bad news? Global Entry offices have closed and any appointments for interviews made during the shutdown are being cancelled via email, The Points Guy reports. Its website is also not being updated, so any new applications won’t be processed until the government resumes operations.

The Associated Press contributed reporting. This article originally appeared online on January 3, 2019; it was updated on January 15, 2019, to include current information.

>> Next: 10 Best Places to Travel in January

Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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