Control tower cutbacks could keep passengers waiting

(CBS News) NEW YORK - This week, air travelers could start feeling the brunt of federal budget cuts.

Some 50,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees, including 15,000 air traffic controllers, are being forced to take an unpaid day off every other week to save money. That could lead to a lot of delays.

For passengers at New York's LaGuardia airport, travel is already a four letter word.

"Mess," said Tina Wasserman from Texas.

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The nation's air traffic control force has been reduced by ten percent, a result of sequestration cuts approved by Congress. The FAA's budget has been slashed by $637 million, affecting 30,000 commercial flights a day.

Mark Rosenker is a former chairman for the National Transportation Safety Board, and an aviation safety analyst for CBS News.

"It could slow anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and in some cases 3, 4 hours," he said. "If it gets too crowded in the skies, there'll be opportunities that unfortunately will result in cancellations."

American Airlines told CBS News that until the FAA provides specific details of the furlough, it's hard to inform passengers of the effects. But they say they do expect the biggest delays to be at LAX, O'Hare and right here at LaGuardia.

The country's largest pilots union and the Airline Trade Association are suing the FAA to stop the furlough, arguing the cuts could be made elsewhere. The fear is airlines will cut low-yield flights to places like Witchita, Kansas, and Tallahassee, Fla., to protect more profitable overseas flights.

"We could see some very difficult times over the next five-and-a-half months, for the carriers, for the passengers, and frankly I believe, for the economy," Rosenker said.

The best advice for passengers on the nation's 30,000 flights a day: Book early and the first flight of the day -- it's the least likely to be cancelled.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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