Airlines cancel thousands of flights as winter storm Harper bears down

Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights scheduled for this weekend as a rapidly-moving winter storm threatened an area from the Midwest to New England with snow, ice and heavy rain, snarling travel and straining airports already grappling with long lines and staffing shortages in the partial government shutdown.

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The TSA said the absentee rate on Friday of its 51,000 officers was 7 percent, up from 3 percent a year ago. Waits topped the agency’s standard 30 minutes at checkpoints in Atlanta, the country’s busiest, Seattle, Newark and Denver but most travelers waited less than half an hour, the agency said.

The TSA workers are among the some 420,000 government employees who have been deemed essential and have been ordered to work during the shutdown.That group also includes air traffic controllers.

Earlier this week the Federal Aviation Administration said it was calling back to work more than 3,000 aviation inspectors and engineers that had been furloughed. Airports, airlines and local businesses have been offering free meals to the unpaid TSA officers and other government employees working without a check. The general public has shown up at some airports with food and other donations.

American Airlines’ credit union is offering 1 percent loans of $1,200 or the amount of a single net paycheck to airport security workers.

Airports are bracing for an increase in travelers during the busy Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. The TSA estimates it will screen 8 million travelers from Friday to Monday, an 11 percent increase compared with the holiday weekend in 2018.

Earlier on Friday, a Southwest flight from Las Vegas overran the runway upon landing at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska, briefly closing the airport. Southwest said no injuries were reported among the 150 travelers and six crew members.

Federal forecasters expect a blast of bitter cold to follow the storm, which could create additional bad road conditions and slow commutes.

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