Shutdown side effect? TSA admits loaded gun allowed on flight

A gun managed to get through a TSA screening, raising questions about the impact of the government shutdown

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 15, 2019 8:25AM (EST)

 (Getty/Scott Olson)
(Getty/Scott Olson)

A gun was inadvertently allowed onto a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Tokyo Narita International Airport on Jan. 3, raising questions about the impact of the government shutdown on airline security.

A passenger forgot that the firearm was located in their carry-on luggage and informed the Transportation Security Administration once the error was discovered, according to CNN. Despite the fact that hundreds of TSA agents from at least four major airports have called in sick as a result of the shutdown, the TSA insisted that the shutdown had nothing to do with the security lapse.

"The perception that this might have occurred as a result of the partial government shutdown would be false," the TSA said in a statement. "The national unscheduled absence rate of TSA staff on Thursday, January 3, 2019, was 4.8% compared to 6.3% last year, Thursday, January 4, 2018. So in fact, the national call out rate was higher a year ago than this year on that date."

Despite these reassurances, it is worth noting that the TSA experienced more than twice the rate of unscheduled absences that it did one year ago — the rate was 3.2 percent one year ago, on Jan. 15, 2018, compared to 7.6 percent on Monday, according to a tweet by Michael Bilello, TSA's assistant administrator for public affairs. Bilello's full tweet read, "This morning, TSA experienced a national rate of 7.6 percent unscheduled absences compared to a 3.2 percent rate one year ago, Monday, January 15, 2018. Most importantly, security standards remain uncompromised at our nation’s airports."

In another tweet, Bilello insisted that "security standards will NOT and have NOT been compromised."

Yet this optimism contradicts a statement by the American Federation of Government Employees on Thursday, which has depicted the disenchantment and despair of transportation workers facing the shutdown in dire terms.

"Every day I'm getting calls from my members about their extreme financial hardships and need for a paycheck. Some of them have already quit, and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown. The loss of officers, while we're already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers, since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires," Hydrick Thomas, TSA council president for the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement.

In a separate statement, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said, "It is completely unacceptable that the women and men who risk their lives safeguarding our airports are still required to report for work without knowing when they'll be paid again."

The shutdown has caused a number of delays and terminal closures. Washington Dulles International, Miami International and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental airports have all had to close screening checkpoints due to TSA agents refusing to show up for work without knowing when they'll be paid, according to Politico.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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