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My grandparents bought a flight on United Airlines that departs on Feb 10 2019, as the one and same ticket, from Toronto, to ORD with 1 55-minute layover, then Maui. Please ping me if I ought post their return flight on Feb 24's details. This answer advises:

There should be no customs and immigrations formalities at ORD, as YYZ is a pre-clearance airport, and CBP matters will be handled in Toronto.

  1. I'm assuming that the 2018-2019 federal gov't shutdown persists during their vacation to Maui.

  2. On Jan 11 2019, NY Times reported some TSA agents' refusal to work.

  3. Will Air Traffic Controllers refuse to work, or any other federal workers pertinent to travelling to and from the US?

  • Pilots are trained to handle operating in and out of airports without controllers, though it is slower. The TSA/security thing is the bigger concern I think. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Jan 13 at 3:20
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas Umm.. no. If ATC isn't working, planes aren't flying. (Although ATC IS working) – Doc Jan 13 at 3:25
  • Um, no. You're wrong, for the US at least. There are dozens of airports without ATC at all. Refer: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/35576/… I can't speak to non-US airports, though it's not really relevant to this situation. @Doc – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Jan 13 at 6:57
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas So you think ORD airspace will just manage itself if there's no ATC? The answer you've linked to is relevant for small airports in the middle of nowhere. It is not in any sense of the word relevant to this question. – Doc Jan 13 at 7:55
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    I found preclearance at YYZ to be incredibly slow this week (only 2-3 agents handling all non-visa nationals) so if the shutdown persists they should consider arriving at YYZ very early. – KernelPanic Jan 13 at 17:22
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At this stage the impact from the US Government "Partial" Shutdown is minimal to zero for air travelers.

Staff such as TSA, CBP (including pre-clearance facilities such as in Toronto) and Air Traffic Control are all considered "essential employees" and thus are still working regardless of the partial shutdown, although they are not currently being paid (although they WILL be paid back-pay once the shutdown ends).

As you've pointed out, some TSA workers are "calling in sick", or in some cases even looking for new jobs, which is potentially leaving them a little short-staffed, however as this stage the impact of that has been at most minimal. eg, Miami airport did close the "Terminal G" area early over this weekend, however that just resulted in flights that were due to use that terminal using a different one instead with no real traveler impact.

Air Traffic Control is still operating normally, and there haven't been any reports I've seen of this changing in the (near) future.

As time goes on the impact may increase, and it certainly wouldn't hurt for most travelers to arrive at the airport a little earlier than normal just in case.

Specifically for your parents, they will pass through Immigration/customs at Toronto airport, and will NOT need to re-clear security in Chicago so even if there are delays they will not be affected during transit.

Update: As the shutdown continues, there has been some impact at a small number of airports due to a shortage of TSA staff reporting to work. TSA is still reporting that the vast majority of passengers (93%) took less than 15 minutes to get through screening, and almost all (99.9%) are taking less than 30 mins, however there have been reports of a small number of airports having longer waits. If flying, it would be best to check the news beforehand to get an idea if your airport is affected, and allow extra time to get through security just in case.

There have been significant flight delays/cancellations in certain locations over the past week or so, however these have been due to extremely cold weather and storms, and are not related to the government shutdown.

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    Atlanta is now being affected by the (lack of) TSA staff at check points – Peter M Jan 15 at 2:56
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+50

I travel quite frequently between the US and Canada and the only impact I have seen is the NEXUS desk at YYZ (and assuming all other NEXUS enrollment centers), it is staffed by DHS/CBP officers and it is deemed non-essential.

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