Sequestration Air Traffic Control Cuts Go Into Effect – Tips On Avoiding Huge Air Travel Delays

by on April 22, 2013 · 20 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Travel Industry

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Well, today’s the day that Congress’s sequestration cuts finally go into effect for the FAA and air traffic controllers have to start taking one furlough day per 10 work days.

There aren't any air traffic control-related delays at the moment.

There aren’t any air traffic control-related delays at the moment.

The FAA and major news outlets are all predicting huge delays – up to 6,700 flights per day – but is all this going to effect the summer travel season or is it just fear mongering?

A quick look at the Flight Delay Information page on the FAA’s website shows that just two major airports are reporting delays – LaGuardia and JFK, and neither is related to the cuts (at LaGuardia it’s because of wind and rain), although last night there were apparently delays of up to 3 hours at LAX due to staffing issues, the FAA claimed, though they seem to have been resolved at this point.

According to this New York Times article from last week, officials are predicting regular delays of just under an hour at O’Hare, while Newark, JFK and LAX are all expected to average under 20 minutes, and most airports are expected to experience much shorter delays directly due to staffing issues.

Although there doesn’t seem to be a widespread impact just yet, chances are we’ll start seeing some traffic snarls in the coming days and weeks, but there are things that you can do to be prepared and cope so you’re not stuck sitting in airports for hours on end.

Use airline apps to get updates on your flights.

Use airline apps to get updates on your flights.

1. Use an App: First, if you are traveling, be sure to check your airline’s flight status page. The FAA has a handy web page that links to the major domestic airlines’ homepages, but also download airline apps and ones like TripIt to your PDA so you can get up-to-the-minute flight status updates and airport information on the go.

2. Check Flight Status: One way to find out the delays for your airport is by checking FlightStats, which has a map with updates. Right now there is good weather across most of US and few flight delays, but that could change as the situation develops.

3. Use ExpertFlyer: You can also use to search for flight availability on alternate routes if your flight is delayed, especially if you have a connection you may miss, including routing through alternative airports. If there are massive delays, airline should let you change your flights the same day if you ask, so be proactive and stay on top of the situation.

Use ExpertFlyer's flight availability search to find alternate routings.

Use ExpertFlyer’s flight availability search to find alternate routings.

At this point, no one really knows how this will impact air travel long-term. There is a certain level of fear-mongering going on in the media and political circles to put public pressure on Congress to resolve the sequestration cuts and increase FAA staffing back to normal levels.

In general, our air traffic control system is outdated and requires a lot of manual input, so while whether or not these furloughs become a huge issue remains to be seen, but it is a definite possibility.

The other major concern is safety, especially since controllers manually manage all incoming and outgoing flights. I hope this doesn’t lead to any incidents or “near misses” when airplanes need to go around again, which happens frequently in already-crowded airspace such as that around New York City. With fewer eyes watching the skies, there’s more of a chance for something like this to occur.

I don’t want to be an alarmist and only time will tell whether these cuts will truly create a systemwide crisis, but if you are planning to travel in the coming days, pay attention to the situation, check your flights and airlines, and be proactive about changing your itinerary if you need to so you don’t lose hours of your time waiting for your flights.

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  • Sasha

    Had a Sun Country flight from MSP to LAX last night with a departure time of 9pm. Plane and crew were ready to go, but we were on a ground delay from LAX until 1:00am. The Delta flight scheduled to leave MSP to LAX at 9:55pm took off on time. The Sun Country people even told us we got delayed and Delta did not because “they are a bigger airline.”

  • Goat Rodeo

    Wonder how delays associated with the FAA would impact the carriage contract @ American Airlines, for example. Since these delays are non-weather related…

  • daevans

    I had a flight from JFK to SFO last night on AA and the furloughs definitely impacted us. We had a 1.5 hour delay set prior to boarding due to the cuts, which snowballed into a 3 hour delay. The cuts also affected our landing as planes being held at the gates at SFO prevented us from pulling in, so we sat another 20 minutes. Hope it’s a one day thing, because that was a mess.

  • Atlasboy

    I had a flight into LGA this morning that was on ground hold for 1hr 23m. The pilot said the weather report in LGA was gorgeous and he suspected it was largely due to the sequester.

  • Jon

    Let’s see….cutting one work day out of ten works out to a 10% reduction in staff. I would expect this to translate to a 10% increase in late flights, which shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But only time will tell.

  • DaveRamseyIsDangerous

    “Sequestration: A stupid name for a stupid thing” – Ali Velshi

  • gbreiter

    Two hour ground hold delay out of IAD today headed to Tampa. Crew outright blamed on sequestration and encourged us to contact “Washington.” UAL

  • BobChi

    I definitely believe they are trying to manage the sequester in ways that create maximum inconvenience for people in order to make a political point. Quite shameless, really, but maybe it will work.

  • Seriously

    I wish you would stop calling them cuts. Funding for the FAA increased, even after the sequester.

  • thepointsguy

    My AirTran crew said the same “Blame Obama, Congress- just not us please”

  • thepointsguy

    Interesting- do you have stats on that?

  • thepointsguy

    I don’t think they’d have to do anything but reaccomodate you on their next available flight.

  • adam

    TPG, what is the cheapest way to fly from the Southeastern USA to Hawaii?

  • thepointsguy

    Using miles? Really depends but AA off peak? As for fares- anyone’s guess- I’d wait for a fare war though those are far and few between these days

  • postnobills

    Using your logic would imply that 10% of flights would be cancelled, not delayed. That is a big deal.

  • jamar0033

    Hmmm… could this possibly affect flights from Canadian airports near the border, or do they handle everything themselves? I’m debating flying out of YVR instead of SEA for my next trip just to be careful.

  • Adam

    Yes using miles. Off peak isn’t really possible, have a kid so can only vacation when school is out

  • ZJ

    There are no cuts. It is a scam. There was simply a reduction in ADDITIONAL funding going forward. There isn’t a budget in place to cut anyway. Look up the raw data (not the NY Times) and see for yourself.

  • Ben Brooks

    This is all a political game by President Obama to force sequestration cuts to be in most visible areas that cause public pain, in order to make Congress look bad and force their hand. Risky strategy. That’s why things like Fleet Week in NY and WH Tours are also cut, to make pain visible.

    The fact is that even after sequestration cuts the poorly-managed FAA still has a larger budget than in 2008 with nearly 1M FEWER aircraft movements. The FAA, while keeping the public very safe, is a terrible supplier/partner to the airlines. Lack of a modernized ATC system is the root cause of instability and poor financial performance of the US airline system.

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