As the longest government shutdown in United States history comes to a close, airports like the Hattiesburg-Laurel regional airport are still experiencing the effects.
President Donald Trump signed a bill Friday, Jan. 25 to reopen the government for three weeks. However, the decrease in employees reporting to work has affected the overall flow of airports resulting in situations such as forced shut down terminals, flight delays and a lack of security.
The lack of travel activity from passengers as well as the halt in payment has affected the attendance of TSA employees at Hattiesburg-Laurel airport. Currently, there are only two flights coming in and out of the Hattiesburg airport which include Dallas-Ft. Worth and Chicago. There is one flight every day to each city.
Airport Executive Director Tom Heanue said there are other contributing factors regarding the lack of attendance. The distance traveled to get to work, the limited number of passengers on each flight and the large gap of time between flights all contribute to the lack of TSA attendance.
“TSA personnel comes from all around,” Heanue said. “Some are coming from south of Columbia as well as Florence, so that’s a drive considering they need to be here at 4 a.m., and there are only a few people on each flight”, said Heanue.
With passenger boarding at a historic low for the Hattiesburg-Laurel airport, the decrease in TSA employees has not been as big of an impact on overall airport functions quite yet.
“There have been some TSA employees calling in sick, but with the number of TSA employees regularly on staff here, the airport hasn’t been impacted much yet,” Heanue said.
However, the gap between the two flights has left the airport personnel feeling as though a large amount of their day is being wasted especially since they will not get paid for the hours spent there.
“Since flights are down right now, the second and last flight does not leave until 4 p.m,” Heanue said. “This makes the employees question if they want to stay at work or leave. I have some employees just staying and sleeping because they live so far.”
Heanue said he believes that if passenger boarding increases and the government shutdown drags on, it could pose a problem for passengers. Although it is a small airport with only two flights, if there are not enough TSA personnel on staff to keep things running smoothly at the airport, flights may not go out on time, which would, in turn, affect connecting flights.
With the government shutdown coming to a close, the Hattiesburg-Laurel airport employees will most likely be returning and ready to work their shifts.
Heanue is trying to encourage more Hattiesburg locals to use the airport before there is no longer an airport to use.
“There’s a lot of people that use it and like it’; there’s a lot of people that don’t know it’s there,” Heanue said.
Junior kinesiology major and Chicago native Alexis Douglas said she will continue to use the Hattiesburg airport.
“It’s an experience for sure,” Douglas said. “It’s definitely a lot different from my airport back home in Chicago, but the process is very quick and efficient. Also, parking is free.”
Senior general business major Catherine Repsher said the airport is a flyer-friendly and quaint place to fly out of town from.
“The workers make it an easy process for less experienced flyers like myself,” Repsher said.
Heanue said although the airport is an easy and reliable source of transportation, he is worried about what will happen if passenger boarding does not increase. He said he believes the building will still be here, but there will not be any more flights.
photo courtesy Hattiesburg American