Keeping up with the ins-and-outs of Washington politics is exhausting. But one thing travelers must keep an eye on is the approaching sequester, which, barring congressional action, goes into effect this week. Though a majority of cuts will be in other federal agencies (mostly in domestic and defense programs), the airline industry is poised to take a major hit. Here’s what you need to know as you try to figure out whether or not your flight plans must be adjusted.
What is the sequester?
The sequester is a series of mandatory federal spending cuts that go into effect March 1, 2013.
What kind of cuts are we talking about?
The Federal Aviation Administration would need to slash $600 million from their budget. In order to do that, they’re looking to cut services at smaller hubs that see 150,000 or fewer flights per year. The FAA has compiled a list of 200 such airports with the intention of closing air traffic control facilities in 100 of them by April 1. There is also talk of eliminating the air traffic control midnight shift at approximately 60 airports. The agency will also enact widespread furloughs – meaning employees much take mandatory, unpaid leaves of absence. The majority of the FAA’s 47,000 employees will likely be furloughed one day in each two-week pay period until the end of the fiscal year in September.
Are these cuts going to affect airport security?
Yes and no. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said security itself will not be compromised. However, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the cuts will force a TSA hiring freeze in March and furlough its 50,000 security officers for at least seven days, in addition to eliminating overtime.
What does all this mean for fliers?
One word: delays. Closing and reducing service in air traffic control centers can delay flights for up to 90 minutes during peak travel hours. Delays of such length means airlines will likely cancel more flights to cut back on costs. Not to mention, with less employees on-hand, security screening will take much longer. Be prepared to spend a lot more time in the airport.
How soon will travelers feel the hit?
LaHood said the full effect of flight delays and cancellations would be felt by April 1.
So how do we fix this?
If you’ve got a spare $85 billion burning a hole in your pocket, now would be a great time to use it. If not, call your local representative. Text “DELAYED” to 877-877 to be connected with a number for your congressman.
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