The federal government is just hours away from a government shutdown, and if the Senate cannot come up with a budget deal, travelers may have to change their plans or wait longer for passports, AAA Mid-Atlantic warns.
The new fiscal year starts Tuesday, Oct. 1, so a bill to fund the government must be passed by both chambers in Congress and signed by President Obama by midnight tonight.
If the bill or a continuing resolution is not passed by Oct. 1, travelers could expect some impact on travel and recreation services managed by the federal government, such as passport processing.
According to an August Congressional Research Service Report, the last government shutdown in 1996 caused approximately 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas to reportedly go unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports reportedly went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines reportedly lost millions of dollars in revenue.
National parks (such as Independence National Historic Park and Valley Forge National Park), Smithsonian museums and federal monuments would close to the public. Any overnight guests would be notified and provided time to exit National parks.
"It's regrettable travelers may have to change plans due to the ongoing congressional gridlock," said Jenny M. Robinson, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "AAA is hopeful that an agreement can be reached so that travelers looking forward to visiting our national parks, monuments and museums are not disappointed.
Air traffic controllers are considered essential employees, so air travelers should not expect delays related to the shutdown. No changes will be made to federal government operations that support national security, such as Transportation Security Administration (TSA) aviation operations (e.g. passenger screening) and border patrol agents.
AAA recommends that any traveler scheduled to visit a national park or facility managed by the federal government call ahead or monitor the NPS website, http://www.nps.gov/index.htm, to confirm the park is open to the public.
In addition, the State Department advises that travelers should regularly check www.travel.state.gov for updates on passport processing information in the event of a shutdown. Information on current applications, emergency requests and other updates will be posted as warranted.
If you are a traveler who has booked tours scheduled to visit national parks and monuments, tour operators generally revise itineraries when events occur that make it impossible to proceed with the planned route. AAA recommends travelers with plans to visit national parks in the next couple of weeks contact their travel agent or travel provider to determine what alternate options will be offered.
The AAA Mobile app and eTourBook guides provide on-the-go access to AAA travel information if last minute changes to travel plans are needed. Content includes AAA Approved attractions such as local museums and state parks. Visit www.AAA.com/mobile or www.AAA.com/ebooks.
Travelers can also use the TripTik Travel Planner, available free to all travelers at www.AAA.com. Listings include 59,000 AAA Approved and Diamond Rated lodgings and restaurants, 17,000 attractions, 23,000 events and 7,000 destinations. Printed AAA TourBook guides and maps are available free to members at AAA and CAA offices.