Monday, April 8, 2013

Flying From Abroad into a US Airport? Bring a Book...and Lots of Patience

The sequester's effects have been sneaking up on travelers, slowly but surely.

I've blogged here before about this governmental snafu's potentially devastating effect on our National Parks--their staffing, services and programming.

Happily another travel crisis has been averted...for now. The Department of Transportation has decided to put off shutting down air control towers until June, citing safety concerns. Summer should also be when security lines slow down, due to a hiring freeze at the TSA.

But for those flying  into the country, the ugliness has already set in. According to USA Today, understaffing at customs has slowed down entry into the US to a crawl. New York's JFK has it worst, with passengers waiting up to three hours to get into the US. (Note for travelers: lines are the worst in the morning. From personal experience, I can tell you that they don't seem to be too awful in the evening. We waited just half an hour last week when coming back from Morocco). Miami has also seen 3-hour plus waits, according to the newspaper, while at Los Angeles Airport, officials have held passengers aboard planes for a full hour because the customs area has gotten dangerously crowded. Sadly, Washington Dulles, which just added a third more customs booths (at the cost of $180 million), has seen its wait time increase by half an hour or more, despite the expanded facilities.

Cuts to employee overtime are the reason behind the increased waits.

What a sad welcome for foreign visitors coming to the United States! Heaven knows we can use their tourism dollars. According to the White House, foreign tourists spent $14 billion in the United States in 2012, an increase of 8% from 2011. That translates into tens of thousands of jobs at hotels,  attractions, airports, restaurants and other sorts of facilities that cater to tourists.

Tourism has been a bright spot in an economy that seems to be getting better only in fits and spurts. With the sequester, and its devastating impact on the comfort of our visitors (and on their options, should they be coming to visit our national parks), we could see that increase in visitor numbers evaporate in 2014. The US has a good amount of competitions when it comes to travel.

So what to do? Remind your legislator that you haven't forgotten about the sequester and you realize these inconveniences--some serious ones--are the direct result of their inaction. Travel cuts are just one small part of the impact of the sequester (my heart goes out to all those whose unemployment benefits have been slashed). It's time to kick up a ruckus! Email your Congressperson, email your Senator and tell them we expect them to do their jobs, now, not later!

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