Lawmakers are eager to fix the air travel problem before they head out of town for next week’s congressional recess. They are concerned about deepening public resentment over the delays caused by the furloughs of controllers.
Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who also negotiated the legislation, applauded its quick passage, but added, “It does nothing for other essential government operations and employees that also desperately need relief.”
Airline passengers have grown increasingly irritated over the past week with delays at major hubs like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Some have reported delays of several hours in takeoff times and planes being put in holding patterns in the air. Many pilots blame furloughs for landing delays.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said on Thursday that many of the 1,978 controller trainees were now working full shifts by themselves to help cover staffing shortages.
Airline executives had ratcheted up their complaints. “This is government not working - capital letters, exclamation point - when we’re sitting here holding the traveling public hostage in the midst of sequestration,” JetBlue Chief Executive Dave Barger said on a conference call on Thursday.
The FAA has said it had no alternative to furloughing controllers this week after Congress failed to come up with a budget deal that would have averted the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts between March 1 and September 30.
At the same time, the FAA has emphasized that passenger safety is not at risk. Airlines for America, the trade organization for U.S. airlines, also said on Thursday the furloughs had not created a safety issue.