Her concerns became more tangible on Monday, when some travelers waited nearly 90 minutes in airport security lines, although Department of Homeland Security officials pushed back on reports linking the delays with the shutdown.
In a Tuesday news conference, Bottoms described the situation, with a shutdown that is the longest in U.S. history, as “uncharted territory.
“We are preparing as best we can from our vantage point,” she said.
Preparations for the Feb. 3 game in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium have been going on for years, but it wasn’t possible to anticipate a shutdown that would so severely affect the TSA, whose agents are working without pay. Workers have been calling in sick at double the usual rate, which has caused some airports to experience a shortage of screeners. The Atlanta airport led the nation Monday in screening delays (the maximum standard wait time was 88 minutes) and TSA PreCheck passengers waited 55 minutes, according to CBS News. The TSA released data last week showing that virtually all of the 1.96 million passengers who flew on Friday cleared security within 30 minutes.
“Our goal is for our officers to be visible, for the public to feel safe, be safe, and be able to position ourselves so that we can react immediately to whatever scenario we are confronted with,” Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields told reporters at the news conference. “I think that with anything, you can go in with a spirit of confidence if you have prepared, and we have prepared well.”
Law enforcement and the city may be prepared, but there are larger events at play.
“Certainly there are factors that we don’t control such as what’s happening with our federal government shutdown and with the long TSA lines,” Bottoms said. “We are continuing to encourage people to get to the airport very early.”
The TSA has added officers from the National Deployment Force to its Atlanta staff “in order to bolster available screening officers at the airport,” according to TSA spokesman Jim Gregory, and will operate checkpoints “to its fullest operational capacity while maintaining security standards.” Atlanta travelers were advised to arrive two to three hours before domestic flights on Super Bowl weekend.
The closer the Super Bowl gets, the greater the worry and the pressure on politicians to find a solution to the shutdown. Republican lawmakers from Georgia are publicly holding the line on the shutdown, but the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that cracks are appearing, especially after Delta CEO Ed Bastian said that the shutdown would cost his airline $25 million this month in lost revenue.
“We’ve got a Super Bowl coming to Atlanta, in about three weeks,” Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson said. “The biggest tourism event in the world this year. What if the largest airport in the world, that’s going to bring people to the largest football game in the world, goes out of business because the TSA strikes? Then you’ve just cost millions of dollars to the United States of America, my home city of Atlanta and others.”
Still, there is no end in sight, with President Trump offering only brinkmanship last week.
Citing senior Republican lawmakers, The Post’s Robert Costa tweeted Tuesday that the officials say “the only way this breaks open is if TSA employees stay home and Americans get furious about their flights. That’s the only out, they say. And they’re close to the WH [White House].”
In the meanwhile, the biggest sports event of the year may be caught in the middle.
Ashley Halsey III contributed to this report.
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