Meet America’s latest powerful political lobby: Angry frequent flyers

The last thing Congress members want is to get stuck talking to these people.
The last thing Congress members want is to get stuck talking to these people.
Image: AP Photo/J Pat Carter
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How convenient. Just before it is due to go into recess, when many members fly back to their home states, the US Congress has passed a bill that will help put air traffic controllers back on a full-time work schedule. The furlough of these controllers—the result of “sequestration,” the sweeping federal budget cuts triggered by Congress’s inability to reach a fiscal deal at the start of the year—has led to thousands of flight delays and cancellations in the US this week, and lots of tweets like this one:

Today’s vote in the House of Representatives approved a bill the Senate passed yesterday, in a display of legislative speed exceptional for these poisoned partisan times. The bill gives the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) more flexibility in its budgeting. That will allow it to use money unspent on other programs to pay air traffic controllers, whose schedules it had started cutting back on April 21.

According to an FAA tally, the furloughs have been responsible for roughly 3,000 flight delays in the past six days, 40% of the country’s total (the rest being due to weather or other problems). And representatives and senators, aside from possibly suffering flight delays themselves, were sure to hear from angry constituents, many of whom are business travelers, when they went home for their recess.

The sequester has also forced cutbacks in everything from defense spending to help for the poor, but that hasn’t sparked the mass public outrage that flight delays and cancellations have, and as a result, Congress hasn’t done much to ease the effects of those cuts. The members know where their priorities are.