Some big changes could be coming for air travelers this week as government budget cuts take effect.
The cuts force the Federal Aviation Administration to furlough each of its air traffic controllers for one day every two weeks. And the FAA says the furloughs could delay flights for hours beginning Monday.
The furloughs started on Sunday and the FAA warns travelers to expect delays ranging from a few minutes to a few hours.
Passengers arriving at McCarran International Airport on Sunday say they didn't experience any delays before taking to the skies, but their return trips could be different. The FAA says budget cuts brought on by the sequester could delay take off for up to 6700 flights each day nationwide.
The FAA must furlough all of its 47,000 air traffic controllers for one day twice a month to make up for some of the $637 million they're losing from the cuts. "It's like equating a tollbooth on the highway. If you have ten tollbooths and you only open eight of them, traffic is going to back up," explained Victor Santore, an air traffic controller in Atlanta. The furloughs could save the agency about $200 million.
Airline employees and customers alike are less than thrilled at the possibility of delays. "They're asking us to contact congress and try to get the ball moving on getting sequestration handled, get air controllers back, and the TSA agents," said Vinny, who works for United Airlines. Oklahoma resident Bill Flegler says, "(The furloughs are) a mistake. It's one of those things, last time it happened it had huge repercussions. We had a lot of very qualified people who took early retirement that should have stayed on the job."
The FAA says passenger safety will not be affected by the cuts.
This summer the FAA is planning to close several air traffic control towers, which would save another $25 million.
The Pilots Union and the airline industry have filed a lawsuit against the FAA in protest of the furloughs.
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