Flights to LaGuardia delayed due to air traffic control staff shortage

Anna Jefferson
January 26, 2019

Several WestJet and Air Canada flights to New York's LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey were cancelled or delayed by as much as 90 minutes after the Federal Aviation Administration announced it was dealing with a spike in air-traffic controllers calling in sick.

The FAA said travel delays Friday morning were caused by staffing shortages at two facilities handling air traffic control in Washington, D.C. and Jacksonville, Florida. Orlando International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airports saw similar lags, the agency reported.

The delays appeared to be easing by Friday afternoon.

As news of Friday's disruptions spread, leaders of aviation unions sent a message: I told you so. "This is reckless, what has been going on with the shutdown". But they won't risk safety so the planes don't fly.

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Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed or, as with some airport workers, required to work without pay, during the shutdown.

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They will be paid once the shutdown ends, but in the meantime, many are describing financial hardships, relying on food banks, and worrying whether they can pay the rent or mortgage.

An aerial view of Laguardia Airport as photographed on November 10, 2018 in New York City.

Federal officials temporarily restricted flights Friday into and out of New York's LaGuardia Airport, another example of the toll the partial government shutdown - in its 35th day - is taking on the nation's airports.

Brad Cicero, a spokesman for Toronto-based Porter Airlines, said the carrier is seeing only "minor" delays on its Newark flights, but those are because of weather or wind conditions.

"We are closely monitoring the situation on the East Coast today", Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in an emailed statement. "As with severe storms, we will adjust operations to a safe rate to match available controller resources".

It's unclear if the staffing issues are directly related to the ongoing partial government shutdown, during which air traffic controllers are working without pay.

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"You can not continue to operate a system this complex for this long without the support structure of the people that are furloughed", Gilbert told CNN on Friday.

A warning was issued Wednesday from the unions representing air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants nationwide. We want to make sure that they can focus on their jobs.

As the shutdown has worn on, Trump has been focused on two particular areas where Americans might be affected, according to people familiar with this thinking: Air travel and tax returns. Union officials say staffing is at a 30-year low with many being overworked, clocking in 10 hour days while working six days a week.

TSA has been moving agents to airports where there are shortages, and occasionally consolidating checkpoints, to prevent lines from getting too long.

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had the second-longest wait time, of 19 minutes.

The bigger concern is air traffic controllers - the people in charge of making sure your plane takes off and lands safely.

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