DOT Head Ray LaHood Paints Nightmarish Travel Picture If Sequestration Hits March 1

Maybe you haven’t been paying much attention to all the hullabaloo surrounding automatic government spending cuts that could go into effect next week, known as sequestration. It’s a lot to take in, as those cuts will be across-the-board and could be a problem for a wide variety of government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration. As such, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is painting a potentially annoying picture for air travel in the future.

Reuters says that during a press conference today urging congressional lawmakers to delay the cuts, LaHood spoke of flight delays and cancellations, shuttered control towers and swarms of angry travelers if sequestration happens.

“Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours,” he told reporters at the White House. “Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country.”

The New York Times explains why this would happen, citing what LaHood told Congress. Basically, most of the FAA’s 47,000 employees would have to take a day of furlough every two-week pay period, which amounts to about 10% fewer works a day.

That means fewer air traffic controllers on every shift, which means officials would be forced to accept fewer airplanes into the system just like during bad weather.

When the weather is spotty, airplanes take off in a 10- to 20 mile gap instead of six- to seven-mile gaps, which translate to passengers sitting on tarmacs longer, delays hitting all the airlines and a lot of cranky tempers.

And then there’s the fun of going through security — the Transportation Security Administration would also face cuts and subsequent furloughs, which again, means fewer workers on the job. Add in extended time for passengers deplaning from international flights because of fewer Customs & Border Control workers and we can see why LaHood is projecting such a dismal atmosphere at airports.

For the most part, the furloughs wouldn’t begin right away next week as notices can’t be sent until March 1, but the agencies could curtail the work of contractors and part-time employees.

If you didn’t care about sequestration before, odds are you might now.

U.S. air travel delays loom after sequester -transportation secretary [Reuters]
Federal Spending Cuts Threaten Delays in Air Travel [New York Times]