Sacramento airline passengers may face delays this summer due to sequester

Sacramento BeeApril 24, 2013 

The old adage "pack your patience" may be more true than ever this summer at Sacramento International Airport and other airports nationally - the result of federal budget cutbacks that went into effect this week.

More than one-third of Sacramento departures and arrivals were delayed as of Tuesday evening. It was the third day of the Federal Aviation Administration's federal budget furlough program.

Most of the delays at the Sacramento airport were brief, 20 minutes or less, according to flight tracking services, but a handful stretched beyond an hour.

Officials recommend fliers contact their airlines and check online flight schedules prior to going to the airport.

FAA officials said this week all air traffic controllers will be furloughed one day each week as a result of the across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration. FAA officials say they plan to continue the furloughs at least through the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.

That includes the 16 controllers stationed at the Sacramento airport. FAA officials said the agency will continue, however, to have air traffic controllers on duty in the Sacramento tower during all flight shifts. There had been earlier talk that the Sacramento tower could go dark after midnight for the final flights of the day.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association on Tuesday claimed more than 10,000 flights were delayed and more than 600 canceled Monday as a result of the furloughs. The union called on Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the budget stalemate.

"This is just the beginning of what promises to be a huge economic disruption if the furloughs are not stopped," the controllers union said in a statement issued by spokesman Doug Church.

The brunt of the delays reportedly have been happening at major airports. Some were related to inclement weather. Smaller facilities like Sacramento reportedly are suffering mainly a ripple effect.

Sacramento airport officials said they do not believe delays at their airport are the result of staffing issues locally, but said the airport may be affected by flights from airports with larger staffing changes.

"We don't know what the long-term impacts are going to be," Sacramento spokeswoman Laurie Slothower said. "This is new ground for everybody. We're monitoring it."

Sequestration also will likely lead to at least some longer lines at federal Transportation Security Administration checkpoints this summer, federal officials said.

Testifying at a congressional hearing last week, the TSA's John Halinski said the agency has some backup funds to keep its workforce generally intact, but he warned security lines could grow longer than usual during peak travel moments in the crowded summer travel season.

TSA officials also announced Tuesday that they have postponed a plan to allow fliers to bring pocketknives on planes in their carry-on luggage or on their person. The agency had planned to begin allowing small knives, as well as ski poles, some golf clubs and other items as carry-ons this week, but said it was backing away from the changes to get more input from stakeholders. Flight attendants had protested the plan.

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