Just three days before Christmas, the federal government partially shut down—and while that will affect employees from a range of government agencies that help millions of travelers each day, travelers should still be able to make it home for the holidays.
Congress was unable to pass a budget for the coming year, and so government funding lapsed at midnight Friday. That means thousands of government employees will be furloughed without pay during the holidays, and thousands of essential workers will be required to work without pay.
Most other Americas are unlikely to be immediately affected by the shutdown. Government employees who perform the most essential services—such as military personnel on active duty, postal workers, prison guards and border security— will still be working.
Here’s what you should know about how a government shutdown may affect your holiday travel:
Flights and trains should not be impacted by the government shutdown
Amtrak, the TSA, border control and air traffic control will still be operational over the holidays, so travelers can still expect to have safe flights and to be able to take the train home.
Travelers in airports can expect the “same rigorous security standards that we always have,” says TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. The TSA will be fully staffed with “front-line” employees such as TSA officers, explosive experts and inspectors, will still be on the job, Farbstein says.
However, these employees will all be working without pay, and behind-the-scenes workers, including administrative employees, will also be on unpaid leave.
Farbstein says that while Congress has approved backpay during past shutdowns, “there’s no guarantee” that TSA employees will be compensated for their work.
Amtrak will also be running as normal in the event of a short-term shutdown, a spokesperson for the railroad said, though its employees will also be working without pay.
Holiday packages should arrive on time
One federal service you won’t need to worry about is the Post Office. Since the USPS is funded by customers’ payments for deliveries and products, the Postal Service will not be affected, and postal workers will continue to deliver the 16 billion pieces of mail and packages sent during the holidays. Unlike many other federal workers, your local mail person will continue to get paid during the shutdown. Mailed gifts and holiday cards will also be delivered as usual throughout the holidays, as the USPS’s operations will not be affected during the shutdown.
National parks, sites and museums might be closed
The general public might run into trouble, however, if they try to visit the nation’s national parks and museums. National parks will remain “as open as possible” during the shutdown, but with a few caveats, said National Park Service Chief Spokesperson Jeremy Barnum in a statement.
“For example, this means that roads that have already been open will remain open (think snow removal) and vault toilets (wilderness type restrooms) will remain open,” Barnum said. “However services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds and full service restrooms, will not be operating.”
Travelers should check official websites to see if specific national parks and other cultural sites will remain open. During past shutdowns, closures have varied by park, Emily Douce of the National Parks Conversation Association wrote in a post on the organization’s blog. About a third of national park museums and cultural sites like the Statue of Liberty have been closed during past shutdowns.
The Smithsonian Institutes’s 19 museums and National Zoo in New York and Washington, D.C. will remain open through January 1 (except on Christmas). The Smithsonian will draw on prior-year funds in the event of a shutdown, the Institute said in a statement.