Flight delays piled up all across the country Monday as thousands of air-traffic controllers were forced to take an unpaid day off because of federal budget cuts, providing the most- visible impact yet of Congress and the White House’s failure to agree on a long-term deficit-reduction plan.
The Federal Aviation Administration kept planes on the ground because there weren’t enough controllers to monitor busy air corridors. Cascading delays at some of the nation’s busiest airports held up many flights into New York, Baltimore and Washington by more than two hours.
In the morning, the delays were so bad that passengers on several Washington- New York shuttle flights could have reached their destination faster by taking the train.
Nearly a third of flights at New York’s LaGuardia airport scheduled to take off before 3 p.m. were delayed 15 minutes or more, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. On April 15, just 6 percent of LaGuardia’s flights were delayed.
The situation was similar at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, in Newark, N.J., and in Philadelphia with roughly 20 percent of flights delayed.
Monday typically is one of the busiest days at airports with many high-paying business travelers departing for a week on the road. The FAA’s controller cuts — a 10 percent reduction of its staff — went into effect Sunday. The full force was not felt until Monday morning.
Travel writer Tim Leffel had just boarded a US Airways plane from Charlotte, N.C., to Tampa, when the flight crew had an announcement.
“They said: ‘The weather’s fine, but there aren’t enough air-traffic controllers,”’ Leffel said. Passengers were asked to head back into the terminal. “People were just kind of rolling their eyes.”
His flight landed one hour and 13 minutes late.
One thing working in fliers’ favor Monday was relatively good weather at most of the country’s major airports. A few wind gusts in New York, snow in Denver and thunderstorms in Miami added to some delays, but generally there were clear skies and no major storms.
However, the shortage of controllers could persist for months, raising the risk of a turbulent summer travel season.