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Federal Spending Cuts Could Cause Major Flight Delays

Today, outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned that impending government budget cuts could mess up U.S. air travel in a major way.

The across-the-board cuts that are set to kick in next week will carve $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said LaHood. As a result, delays and cancellations caused by federal-employee shortages could be in the cards.

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At a White House press briefing, LaHood said, "Travelers should expect delays of up to 90 minutes at peak airports during sequester. It's going to be very painful for the flying public." LaHood told Congress that the majority of FAA employees will take a day of furlough per two-week period if the sequester goes through on March 1. According to The New York Times, this approximates 10 percent fewer workers a day. The shortage of FAA staff will slow down airport security, air traffic control, and pretty much every component of air travel that is serviced by the agency—which amounts to almost every component of air travel.

President Obama wants Congress to hold off on the across-the-board cuts for now. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who warned the Senate Appropriations Committee that wait times in airport-security lines could increase by an hour (and even more at customs), agrees.

Even if the broad budget cuts go through, it could be a while before travelers are hit with an epidemic of delays. Legally, employees must get 30 days' notice before facing a furlough, reports The Times. And if Congress manages to negotiate a narrower set of cuts before the March 1 deadline, the FAA—as well as untold American travel plans—might be spared.

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