Flights are not halted at LaGuardia, but the shutdown is now causing flight delays

Getting worse.
Getting worse.
Image: Reuters/Amr Alfiky
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The effects of the US government shutdown on air travel escalated today (Jan. 25), as flights into New York’s LaGuardia airport were delayed due to staffing shortages.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a statement saying the shortages were due to a “slight increase” in sick leave at two air traffic control facilities, one in Washington D.C. and one in Jacksonville, Florida. All essential government workers, including air traffic control and TSA agents, have been expected to work without pay during the government shutdown that began on Dec. 22. While failing to show up for work is grounds for dismissal per federal law, calling in sick is a way to avoid working without pay.

Despite widespread reports that flights into LaGuardia had been halted, an FAA bulletin updated several times on Friday said selected arriving flights were delayed by an average of 1 hour and 26 minutes. (CNBC is reporting that the FAA “had briefly halted flights” into LaGuardia, though Quartz has been unable to confirm this.) Passengers with flights departing to LaGuardia were advised to check with their airline or departure airport for delays. As of 11:41 EST, flights already airborne and arriving into LaGuardia were experiencing delays of 15 minutes or less, according to the bulletin.

Over the past few weeks, the shutdown’s impact on aviation had been largely limited to lengthened TSA wait times and fears that flights may be less safe due to understaffed security lines. In its latest bulletin of checkpoint wait times, issued Thursday (Jan. 23), the TSA said that on the prior day, “99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes and 96.3 percent of passengers waited less than 15 minutes.” They also reported a 7.5% rate of unscheduled absences; at various points in the shutdown, as much as 10% of the TSA’s workforce have called in sick.

Similar delays were also reported at Newark Airport in the FAA’s bulletin, but noted as being due to poor weather conditions, not staffing shortages.