Airline passengers in the United States are getting a feel for the effects of the budget sequestration with significant delays caused by reduced staffing in air traffic control towers across the country. The FAA has anticipated as many as 6,700 delayed flights each day because of the limited staffing; the worst day in 2012 had approximately 2,500 delayed flights. The budget cuts associated with the furloughs are seeing the number of controllers working at any particular station reduced across the board. No airspace will be left unmonitored but the reduced number of controllers means that the total number of planes which can be handled is lowered. The delays have been scattered but the most significant issues have shown up in the New York City area, already the busiest and most delay-prone region in the country.
For passengers, the net effect will be delays up to 90 minutes during peak travel periods. And that is the estimated best case scenario. If weather or other issues crop up the delays will likely grow. While common wisdom is that traveling early in the day can help mitigate the impact that doesn't always hold up in practice. Monday morning saw a number of significant delays (3+ hours) as well as many cancelations in and out of New York City.
Not surprisingly, the airlines are concerned by the cuts and the impact on their operations. They have filed a lawsuit in an effort to halt the furloughs and restore service. The airlines are doing their best to handle the delays, with some treating the situation like a major storm while others are confident that they can run their normal operations. Many airlines are also trying to sway public support, encouraging passengers to contact Congress to express their frustrations. United Airlines is including an announcement on all flights to this end; other carriers are notifying passengers through flight status updates and other means. In addition to accommodating affected passengers, the airlines are also seeing notable increases in their fuel bills due to the extended delays. US carriers are estimated to be incurring approximately $20 million in extra jet fuel costs each day.
Everyone loses with the impact of the sequestration. Airlines will have higher costs, passengers will be delayed or see their flights canceled, and the Air Traffic Controllers are not getting paid for the furlough time. And it is not clear how long we'll all have to suffer with this.
Photo credit: Airport delay via Shutterstock