The on-time rate for airlines at the nation's largest airports dropped… (Elaine Thompson, Associated…)
On-time performance of airlines at the nation's biggest airports dropped 9 percentage points Monday after hundreds of air traffic controllers were furloughed by budget cuts.
East Coast airports felt most of the pain, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Staff shortages at air traffic towers were expected to cause more delays Tuesday in Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas.
"Travelers can expect to see a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing and weather-related issues," the agency said in a statement.
Frustrated lawmakers in Washington criticized FAA administrators, saying budget cuts resulting from the so-called sequester could have been made without furloughing air traffic controllers.
"Not all government spending is created equally, and so this morning I'm calling on the Obama administration and the FAA to be smarter and more transparent about the sequester," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor.
The union representing the nation's 15,000 air traffic controllers said the overtime the FAA is paying to deal with the staff shortages is erasing any savings from the furloughs.
"It's simple math — furloughing controllers earning base while paying others base pay plus an additional 50% will not result in savings," the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn. said in a statement.
But FAA officials said they were only approving overtime pay on a limited basis.
The on-time rate for airlines at the nation's largest airports dropped to an average of about 73% on Monday, compared with 82% the previous Monday, according to Flightstats, a website that monitors airline performance rates.
On-time rates dropped even more at airports in New York and Florida, with LaGuardia Airport reporting a 47% rate and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport at 51%, according to the website. Some delays in New York, however, were attributed to strong winds.
At Los Angeles International Airport, where some travelers reported delays of up to an hour, the average on-time performance was 78% on Monday, about the same rate as the previous Monday, according to Flightstats.
The FAA said it delayed 1,200 flights Monday because of staff shortages — about three times as many as Sunday. The FAA attributed 1,400 other delays to severe weather and other factors, such as airport maintenance work.