(CBS News) Massive government spending cuts which could go into effect this week may bring surprises if you're planning to fly. Travelers could feel the initial effects of the mandatory spending cuts almost immediately.
Long lines, flight delays and cutbacks on flights could start as soon as next week, and then get worse as we move into April.
Robert Poole, director of transportation policy of the public policy think tank Reason Foundation, advised, "Get to the airport early, be prepared for the worst, bring a good book and hope for the best."
That's because the so-called sequester would force the Federal Aviation Administration to trim $600 million from its budget. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the FAA will have to cut back on staff and put thousands of workers on furlough. Roughly half of the air traffic control facilities at regional airports around the country may have to close, and overnight shifts at dozens of towers could be eliminated.
Officials say that will mean fewer flights and delays of up to 90 minutes or more at major travel hubs.
"It could get fairly bad," Poole said. "It could be like we had a storm all over the country and things get slowed down and messed up. I mean, that's a way to inflict the maximum pain on the public."
Some Republicans claim the White House is exaggerating the potential impact, to pressure Congress into a deal to stop the sequester. But LaHood says the warnings are legitimate. He said in a recent television appearance, "We're not making this up in order to put pain on the American people."
LaHood says the American people should be prepared for major disruptions.
The effect may be like dominoes, according to CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg. He explained on "CBS This Morning," "(The FAA) can't move around the money. They're going to allocate resources. The big choke-point airports...will be operating, but the problem is will the pilots get their push back from the tower and will they get their flight plans from the air traffic controllers? So when they talk about...90-minute delays, they're not kidding. You have the airlines having to adjust saying, if it's going to be beyond 90 minutes, let's just cancel the flights. "...It's going to cross all party lines," he said. "The angry Republicans and angry Democratic fliers -- it will be bipartisan anger."
However, airport safety won't be in jeopardy, according to Greenberg. "You're just going to be seeing slower operations. If the plane can't get their push back time, they're not going to push back. And they can't be handed off to air traffic control if those guys are understaffed, so it's just going to slow the process down. It's not a safety issue. It's a procedural issue."
To watch Elaine Quijano's full report and more discussion with Greenberg on "CTM," watch the full video in the player above.