NEW YORK - It was a tough start to the week for many air travelers as federal budget cuts led to cascading delays along the East Coast Monday morning.
Some flights out of New York and Washington were delayed by more than two hours as the Federal Aviation Administration kept planes on the ground. The federal agency has said furloughs of air traffic controllers could lead to delays if there weren't enough people to monitor busy air corridors.
For instance, the 8 a.m. US Airways shuttle pushed back from the gate at Reagan National Airport six minutes early but didn't take off until 9:58 a.m. The plane landed at 10:48 a.m. - more than two and a half hours later than its scheduled time.
If travelers instead took Amtrak's 8 a.m. Acela Express train from Washington, they arrived in New York at 10:42 a.m. - 4 minutes early.
Government budget cuts that kicked in last month are forcing the FAA and other agencies to cut their spending. FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.
Skies were mostly calm along the East Coast, with the exception of a few wind gusts in New York. The delays seen were much more severe than what would normally be seen on a comparable day with full staffing.
Delta Air Lines said it was "disappointed" in the furloughs and warned travelers Monday to expect delays in the following cities: New York, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
The flight tracking service FlightAware says flights heading to Florida are seeing delays of up to an hour.
Raymond Adams, president of the air traffic controllers union at New Jersey's Newark airport, said on Twitter than a few flights out of Newark to the south got sent back to Newark because the Washington area air traffic control system was overwhelmed.
Some groups are warning that the slowdown could hurt the economy.
"Our nation's economy and businesses will pay a very steep price that significantly outstrips savings produced by furloughs," the Global Business Travel Association warned the FAA in a letter Friday. "If these disruptions unfold as predicted, business travelers will stay home, severely impacting not only the travel industry but the economy overall."
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