It was a tough start to the week for many air travelers. Flight delays piled up in Columbia and all along the East Coast Monday as thousands of air traffic controllers were forced to take an unpaid day off because of federal budget cuts.
Some flights into New York, Baltimore and Washington were delayed by more than two hours as the Federal Aviation Administration kept planes on the ground because there werent enough controllers to monitor busy air corridors.
Numerous flights coming into Columbia were delayed by 15 minutes to more than an hour throughout the day and night Monday, according to Columbia Metropolitan Airport spokeswoman Lynne Douglas.
Inbound flights to Columbia out of major airports in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., saw the most delays. For example, a flight out of New Yorks LaGuardia Airport originally scheduled to arrive at 9:16 p.m. was pushed to 10:37 p.m. a delay of more than an hour and 20 minutes.
It is unusual to have that many flight delays on a day when skies are clear and calm, Douglas said. Usually the only other time that youll see that is with (bad) weather.
Despite the delay in arrivals, departure times were largely unchanged, Douglas said.
The problem was worse in some other areas.
One out of every five flights at New Yorks LaGuardia International scheduled to take off before noon on Monday was delayed 15 minutes or more, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Last Monday morning, just 2 percent of LaGuardias flights were delayed. The situation was similar at Washingtons Reagan National Airport, in Newark, N.J., and in Philadelphia.
Some flights were late by two hours or more.
The furloughs are part of mandatory budget cuts that kicked in on March 1 after Democrats and Republicans missed a deadline to agree on a long-term deficit reduction plan.
FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 air traffic controllers including a couple dozen in Columbia. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.
Critics have said the FAA could reduce its budget in other spots that wouldnt delay travelers.
Monday is typically one of the busiest days at airports with many business travelers setting out for a week on the road. The FAAs controller cuts a 10 percent reduction of its staff went into effect Sunday but the full force wasnt felt until Monday morning.
Some travel groups have warned that the disruptions could hurt the economy.
If these disruptions unfold as predicted, business travelers will stay home, severely impacting not only the travel industry but the economy overall, the Global Business Travel Association warned the head of the FAA, Michael P. Huerta, in a letter Friday.
Deborah Seymour was one of the first fliers to face the headaches. Her flight from Los Angeles to Tucson, Ariz., Sunday night was delayed four hours and then canceled.
Its pretty discouraging that Congress cant get it together and now its reached the point that we cant get on an airplane and fly, Seymour said.
Kristy Eppley Rupon and The Associated Press contributed.