Newark airport’s terminal A security checkpoint has been closed. Passengers will have to clear security at terminal C and get bused over to A gates. Try not to touch anything on the ride.
TSA screeners are calling out from work by the hundreds, in a challenge that’s expected to get significantly worse, after the agency announced that screeners are now allowed to take paid time off, no questions asked under “weather and safety leave” if they feel at all uncomfortable reporting to work. In fact, it’s expected that thousands of screeners will begin calling out from their jobs.
Top regional officials are now sounding the alarm that hundreds of employees are staying home, and with little incentive for screeners to continue working when they can simply request leave with no questions asked, the officials expect the problem to only get worse. And while airport traffic has greatly diminished as a result of the pandemic, officials say there is still a small surge of travel occurring during the spring break period.
There is “absolutely nothing” to stop the situation from growing to thousands of officers declining to come to work, one senior executive said. As more and more employees see their colleagues taking unlimited safety leave without missing a paycheck, the executive speculated those employees would stop seeing any point in coming to work. “Why am I coming to work?” the official anticipated employees would ask themselves.
So-called ‘safety leave’ is being offered in 14-day increments. According to the agency, “This applies to employees, regardless of whether or not they are symptomatic for COVID-19.” One TSA executive admits, “We’ve just opened the floodgates for people to exploit it.”
“If they show up and say ‘I’m scared to go to work’, we are not allowed to challenge them,” one senior executive said. “We are not allowed to ask why. They can just go home.”
Here TSA employees can be seen eating from a shared platter, Failing to social distance (HT: Reid F):
— Fly MacArthur (@LIMacArthur) March 19, 2020
Of course since TSA screening did little to deter actual threats, and by the agency’s own admission the lack of incidents in U.S. commercial aviation is the result of a lack of active plots, there’s likely little lost as a result of this policy – except that anyone proceeding through a TSA checkpoint may face longer lines making social distancing more difficult.