Two weeks from Sunday, soul legend Gladys Knight will perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of a crowd of 75,000 fans in her hometown of Atlanta. A football game will follow.
But with just 17 days remaining until Super Bowl LIII kicks off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, some state and local officials in Georgia are growing increasingly worried that the partial government shutdown will derail an event the city has been planning for years.
The primary concern is Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the hoards of people that will be moving through it, and the possibility that TSA agents will be working without pay. “Right now, we have about 70,000 to 80,000 people who go through Hartsfield-Jackson each and every day,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said over the weekend. “That number will swell. The day after the Super Bowl, which we refer to as ‘Mass Exodus Monday,’ we will have 110,000 going through the airport.”
Monday provided a preview of the trouble that awaits if the government is still shut down on February 3. Across the country, 7.6 percent of TSA agents were out on unexpected absences (more than double the rate from the same date last year) and waits at Hartsfield-Jackson reflected it, with some travelers standing in security lines for 88 minutes. Wait times fell as the week went on, but Atlanta’s airport still had the longest security lines in the country. And that’s without the influx of Super Bowl travelers.
Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican who is trying to stop future government shutdowns, warned this week that a strike by TSA agents would put Atlanta’s airport “out of business.”
“What if the largest airport in the world, that’s going to bring people to the largest football game in the world, goes out of business because the TSA strikes?” he said Tuesday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Then you’ve just cost millions of dollars to the United States of America, my home city of Atlanta and others.”
The possibility of such a strike still seems remote, but the longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely it becomes.
And even if the shutdown ends before Super Bowl Sunday, planning for the game has already been disrupted, NBC News reports:
Dan McCabe, a National Air Traffic Controllers Association representative, told NBC News that his colleagues had been holding meetings over the past year to prepare for the surge in travelers to the area. But now the planning meetings, which included officials from his union, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Football League, have been grounded.
“As soon as the shutdown happened, these meetings stopped happening,” McCabe said. As a result, controllers feel less prepared than they’d like for the anticipated 1,500 additional flights a day to the area during Super Bowl week.
Security for the Super Bowl also typically involves agents from the FBI, Secret Service, and other agencies where people are currently working without pay.
Outside of Atlanta, the shutdown is also threatening the most beloved part of the Super Bowl — the commercials. As CNBC reported this week, the Federal Communications Commission is not currently approving new products. That could hamper companies that have big plans to unveil shiny products in pricey Super Bowl commercials and leave viewers with nothing to watch but ads for beer and chips.