sequester
11:16 am
Mon April 22, 2013

FAA furloughs snarl air travel on the West Coast

Air travelers, especially those on the West Coast, are facing major delays this week due to sequester-mandated employee furloughs.

As much as 10 percent of the 47,000 flight controllers and other Federal Aviation Administration workers were placed on leave Sunday, grounding a number of planes and delaying flights to and from Los Angeles, including at least six Alaska Airlines flights. 

Alaska Airlines said in addition to Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego will likely be hit hardest. The airline added the cuts could cause “extensive ground delays ranging from 50 minutes to two hours and a reduction in flight arrivals of 30 to 40 percent at certain airports.”

Cascading delays Monday morning caused flights to and from Washington, D.C. and New York’s LaGuardia Airport to arrive more than two hours after their scheduled time.

"The cuts required by the sequester have forced us to slash contract expenses and furlough 47,000 of our employees," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told a Senate committee Thursday. He predicted that the agency's handling of air traffic operations would be less efficient, and that there would be less time for safety inspections of new aircraft.

The FAA recommends getting to the airport two hours before a domestic flight, and three hours before an international trip. If significant delays develop, airlines say they plan to reroute flights and use shuttle buses to get passengers to their destinations or connecting flights.

The FAA's furlough plan has drawn criticism from members of Congress, who accuse the agency of mismanaging the budget cuts and hyping their impact.

"Given that the FAA's budget increased more than 100 percent over the last 15 years, finding five percent in savings shouldn't need to significantly impact our nation's aviation operations," said Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Airlines, unhappy that the furloughs might cause them to experience cascading delays — and to endure frustrated customers' ire — have created a website to help the public complain to the FAA.

The FAA furloughs, which require employees to stay home from work without pay for one or two days per pay period, are expected to continue until the financial year ends on Sept. 31.