Air Travelers Poised for More Delays Amid Furloughs

Airlines and passengers braced for a third day of delays as the U.S. government’s automatic budget cuts furlough air-traffic controllers, slowing operations at some of the busiest hubs.

Some flights to New York’s LaGuardia and New Jersey’s Newark airports ran almost two hours late as winds exacerbated congestion at 1:15 p.m. local time, the Federal Aviation Administration said on its travel website. Washington-area airports had hour-long delays because of staffing, the FAA said.

If the controller furloughs continue, “it gets worse, not better,” US Airways Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker said today on a conference call. “I can’t imagine this stays in place for any extended period of time. It’s such terrible policy. It needs to stop.”

US Airways, the biggest carrier at Washington’s Reagan National airport, estimated flight delays would cost it $250 million if they lasted all year. Today’s disruptions followed more than 1,200 delays yesterday attributable to the furloughs, the FAA said in a statement.

Controllers are spacing planes farther apart so they can manage traffic with remaining workers, and the FAA warned of delays spreading to Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Delta Air Lines Inc. canceled 90 flights yesterday flown by its regional partners to help ease congestion, while delays on remaining flights were typically 60 to 90 minutes long, executives said on a conference call.

10 Percent

The FAA said last week that delays may reach more than two hours with fewer controllers on duty because of cutbacks known as sequestration. An average of about 10 percent of controllers will be on furlough on any given day, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association estimated.

“This is lunacy,” former American Airlines Chief Executive Officer Robert Crandall said today in a Bloomberg Television interview with Tom Keene. Controller staff reductions are especially bad “at choke points in the system like in New York, where if you take out 10 percent you’ll cause very substantial delays.”

Delays yesterday in flights to and from the New York City area, the nation’s busiest air-travel market, affected the three largest U.S. airlines. United Continental Holdings Inc., the biggest, has a hub at Newark, while Delta and American are the largest at LaGuardia.

About 53 percent of LaGuardia flights were delayed yesterday, the highest among U.S. airports, according to Portland, Oregon-based

“One of the difficulties with these furloughs is that we really don’t know the full extent of the delays and disruptions that it will cause,” Southwest Airlines Co. Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly told employees in a weekly recorded message. Communications from the FAA are “not sufficient or detailed or insightful in order for us to plan for the potential impacts.”