Better start your sequester countdown clock now:
Last week DHS secretary Janet Napolitano had to eat a bit of crow after it became clear that her comments about airport delays brought on by the sequester may have given the wrong impression that things were already deteriorating. In fact, it’s been pretty much business as usual at airports—but that was to be expected, since the real damage from the cuts isn’t expected to kick in until sometime in April. Just when in April isn’t clear, since this is an unprecedented situation—past government shutdowns provide no guidance since essential safety functions like air traffic control were exempt.
So it would be wrong to get too complacent, or to dismiss all this as a typical Washington blame game. As I said during a NPR interview with A. Martinez that aired on KPCC in Pasadena last week, roughly 80,000 federal workers who directly affect air travel—screeners, air traffic controllers, and customs agents—will soon be working on reduced schedules if nothing is done to stop the budget axe from falling across the board. And things could get really ugly. Waits of two hours at Customs checkpoints are already par for the course at major international gateways, so imagine that going up to four or more hours. Air traffic control slowdowns could mean flight delays of 90 minutes or more. It’s sort of like a bad air day, every day.
Getting good information on the situation at your airport might be a challenge—but these sites can help:
For airport flight delays, the FAA provides real-time data for specific airports at www.fly.faa.gov.
For security checkpoints, the TSA has an app that lets fliers share info on wait times.
And for Customs/INS wait times at airports, the CBP has info on its website.