Airports on the East Coast were hit with increasing delays this morning as the shutdown’s impacts began to slow the aviation system, a situation aviation workers have warned about for weeks with increasingly dire language.
“Do we have your attention now, Leader McConnell? All lawmakers?” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “Open the government and then get back to the business of democracy to discuss whatever issue you so choose. This shutdown must end immediately.”
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Departures from Philadelphia and Newark were delayed by more than an hour, and traffic was significantly slowed at LaGuardia in New York due to controllers calling out sick at a large facility outside of Washington, D.C. that handles air traffic for most of the region.
The FAA said it has “experienced a slight increase in sick leave” at its Washington and Jacksonville, Fla. air traffic control facilities.
“As with severe storms, we will adjust operations to a safe rate to match available controller resources,” according to an agency statement. “We’ve mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft as needed. The results have been minimal impacts to efficiency while maintaining consistent levels of safety in the national airspace system.”
Air traffic controllers have been working without pay for weeks because of the government shutdown, and their union has warned in recent weeks that there could be a breaking point because of this week’s missed paychecks.
“The president has been briefed and we are monitoring the ongoing delays at some airports,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “We are in regular contact with officials at the Department of Transportation and the FAA.”
Dana Rubinstein contributed to this report.