Air Traffic Controllers Now Not Showing Up to Work During Shutdown

The government shutdown continues to affect airport security wait times. Sick out calls have been hovering over 7% for the past week, peaking at 10% this past Sunday.

Today’s interesting development is that morning American Airlines, United, and Delta flights from Monroe, Louisiana were cancelled when TSA agents called in sick and they couldn’t open the security checkpoint. Screeners from Shreveport and Alexandria, Louisiana were brought in to staff the airport.

Air traffic control centers faced staffing shortages today that led to delays across the Northeast including the major New York airports of Newark and LaGuardia as well as Philadelphia. There were delays in and out of Tampa as well.

There had been a ground stop in effect at LaGuardia but that’s since lifted. There are still delays — and the FAA specifically attributes the slowdown to staffing levels.

Today is running as though it’s impacted by weather events, but the weather is air traffic controllers calling in sick.

Contra the claims though that safety is impacted, that is not how this work. Screeners are still screening, as though they were likely to find contraband when their full contingent reported to work. Checkpoints that can’t be staffed are closed and passengers are inconvenienced. Air traffic control can slow down the skies, increase spacing between aircraft. That reduces throughput of the nation’s air travel, it doesn’t compromise safety.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “They did not list their religion on the manifest”. He was wearing a yamaca and she a head scarf. They clearly orthodox. Either you are doing handstands to avoid the concept of discrimination, your not very bright or your a bit antisemetic yourself. Also were did you get the people rows away stuff.

  2. Isn’t the safety argument about screeners who are overworked or forced to increase their throughput, and about air traffic controllers having increased stress levels from the financial pressures about not being paid? It seems pretty obvious that these things could easily lead to something being missed or a mistake being made. I’m not saying the impact this would have is huge (I’m not planning to alter any of my travel plans), but it seems to pretty clearly be non-zero.

  3. The negative impact of the government shutdown to the NAS, National Airspace System, is not a temporary situation that will be easily remedied. Veteran controllers that are able to retire, and those promoting to other locations, are normally replaced by recently certified ATC trainees that though qualified, lack the experience only time working airplanes will provide. The shutdown has completely stopped classroom training one month ago, on December 26, when all contract staff were instructed to go home. In addition most on-the-job training has no doubt been curtailed. Assuming they have the skill set it takes at least one year, sometimes multiple years, of continuous training to gain a newly certified controller. The cumulative effect of air traffic controllers retiring due to or not due to the shutdown, and the interruption of ATC training will make recovery a difficult and extended process for many ATC facilities, especially those already hurt by chronic understaffing. It appears that the NAS will continue to suffer long after this shutdown is over.

  4. @William Bahr: “your not very bright”

    oh the irony.

    and your comment is on the wrong page.

    and gary is jewish so it’s a stretch calling him anti-Semitic.

  5. I do wonder if delays into NYC during busy summer months with otherwise clear weather are also a function of extra vacation days (controllers are people too who travel more during the summer).

    But the FAA doesn’t call them staffing delays and instead calls it traffic management.

  6. Let’s face it: an overwhelming majority of Air Traffic Controllers (93%) CAME TO WORK and performed diligently, like any health/safety/emergency worker would. For the few that decided to play sick-out, I have ZERO respect for them. Public safety employees are forbidden from striking, due to the nature of their work. So using social media & networking platforms, they coordinated a sick-out. (In reality, a strike… revealing that they will in fact betray their country in a time of need. The “sneaky” strike was pure selfishness. Never heard of an ATC not being able to afford gas money after missing 1 paycheck. (Their salary is high, and they can adjust their lifestyle temporarily to deal w/ cashflow. People with the aptitude and discipline of an ATC are planners, and they have resources they can tap if they have a temporary need.) Furthermore, they still haven’t got their paychecks, yet suddenly are back on the job? Funny how they suddenly got gas money again without their paychecks. Like I said, they went on a strike. The people tasked w/ keeping America safe went on strike. They need fired.

  7. Right…… slow down airplanes, increase spacing, oh man, how come no one ever thought of that!

    Oh right, too many planes and that will just screw it up further. Throw in any unusual circumstance and delays and problems exacerbate.

    Who gets screwed? The passengers and front line staff.

    Great job, @gary!

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