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'Sequester' budget cuts have not delayed airline flights

April 07, 2013|By Hugo Martin
  • Travelers wait in line for a TSA security checkpoint at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas last month.
Travelers wait in line for a TSA security checkpoint at Austin-Bergstrom… (Rodolfo Gonzalez, Austin…)

Despite predictions that sweeping federal budget cuts would lead to long wait times at the nation’s airports, airline on-time performances did not change significantly during the busy spring break period.

When a budget battle between Congress and the Obama administration boiled over in February, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano predicted that job furloughs and cuts in overtime pay to airport screeners and customs officers would result in airport gridlock and increase wait times by an hour or more.

“Such delays would affect air travel significantly, potentially causing thousands of passengers to miss flights with negative economic consequences at the both the local and national levels,” she said in a written statement to a congressional panel.

John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, said such delays would be even longer during peak travel periods, such as spring break.

The federal budget cuts known as a sequester began taking effect March 1.

It’s unclear whether passengers waited longer to get through TSA screening lines and customs inspections during spring break, but airline operations did not change significantly.

U.S.-based airlines arrived on time 79.5% of the time between March 18 and April 1, compared with 81.2% in the same period last year, according to an analysis by FlightStats, a flight monitoring website.

On-time rates even improved slightly at Los Angeles International Airport, with flights arriving on time 81% of the time, compared with 76.7% for the same period last year, according to FlightStats.

Federal officials said they worked to reduce the budget cuts' effect on air travel, adding that a recently approved budget will enable the TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to mitigate further problems.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection planned in advance to do everything possible to process travelers during the anticipated busy spring break period and therefore was able to successfully mitigate higher-than-usual delays,” said Michael Friel, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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