Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 June 2019

Here's what the US government shutdown means for travellers

As the partial government shutdown rolls on, tourists visiting the US are beginning to feel the effects

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are staying at home, or working without pay, due to the US government's partial shutdown, resulting in the closure of key tourist attractions. AFP 
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are staying at home, or working without pay, due to the US government's partial shutdown, resulting in the closure of key tourist attractions. AFP 

The current partial shutdown of the US government is the second-longest since congress began using its modern budgeting process in 1976. If it rolls on until Saturday, it will become the longest shutdown on record.

As the politics continue to play out, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are off work or working without pay and the impact is being felt across the country. As the lockdown continues, travellers visiting the US will also feel the squeeze.

Air travel

Plan for extra time when journeying through airports.

Many airports across the country have reported long lines at checkpoints apparently due to a rising number of security offers calling in sick while they are not being paid. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has admitted that many screeners have reported absent to work but have also stated that the effect has been minimal.

Air-traffic controllers have been working since the shutdown began without pay but the National Air Traffic Controllers Association have now expressed concerns over how long staff will continue to turn up with no resolution in sight.

The largest association of pilots in the US has also expressed concerns over the safety of the nation’s airspace which it said was being threatened due to the shutdown.

National Parks

Some of the country’s most visited national parks have closed to visitors. Officials at Joshua Tree in California reported plans to close earlier this week after damaged was inflicted on some of the park's trees by unsupervised visitors. The announcement was later retracted when funds were secured to be able to keep the park operational.

Officials from Joshua Tree National Park in California reported damage to trees by unsupervised visitors during the US government shutdown. Wikimedia Commons
Joshua Tree National Park in California is now closed after trees were damaged by visitors during the US government shutdown. Wikimedia Commons

There has not been a blanket order to close but National Parks across the US are struggling to remain open without funding to pay rangers. Without staff at the gates, parks are also losing a reported $400,000 (Dh1.47m) a day in entry fees. Many campgrounds and walking trails have had to close due to a build-up of litter and other sanitation issues.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Kentucky and Louisiana's Cane River Creole National Historical Park are closed and Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington DC is also not operational until further notice. The John Muir and Mist Trails to Vernal and Nevada Falls, as well as Tuolumne and Merced Groves in Yosemite National Park have closed and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah only has funds to operate until January 10, after which it may close.

Some visitors are taking advantage of the shutdown by entering parks without have to pay the $30 admission charge. This has also resulted in reports of trees and plants being destroyed by irresponsible visitors. Many people across the country have rallied to stop such actions by volunteering to patrol walking routes or pick up litter. Teams of young Muslims from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association were among the volunteers picking up rubbish at Joshua Tree, Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio and the Everglades National Park in Florida.

Travellers should exercise caution when visiting understaffed parks as three deaths, including that of a 14-year-old girl at Horseshoe Bend Overlook in Arizona’s Glen Canyon Recreation Area, have been reported since the shutdown began.

Tourist attractions

All 19 of the Smithsonian museums across the country have closed and visitors to the US capital of Washington DC will face many closed sites including the US National Zoo or National Gallery of Art. Memorials on the National Mall will be open to visitors but restrooms, ranger stations, gift shops and museums will be closed.

Around the country, other attractions will face closures including Philadelphia’s Independence Mall and New York’s Cooper Hewitt Design museum while San Francisco’s Alcatraz will be open, but operating with limited facilities. Travellers are advised to check individual websites of attractions for the latest information.

The historic clock tower inside the Trump International Hotel in Washington remains open, despite being federally owned. This has caused speculation on twitter with users questioning if the facility is actually benefiting from a shutdown.

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Updated: January 10, 2019 01:38 PM

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