One Side Effect of a Government Shutdown? More Travel Delays.

Even a brief shutdown could have significant effects

Airplanes landing
Air travel could get more tricky.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Remember how, this summer, flying both domestically and internationally turned out to be a horrific experience for plenty of travelers? Delays abounded, some because of extreme weather, others because of labor actions. We’ve officially entered a new season, but air travelers in the United States might want to brace themselves for a new litany of travel delays. What’s the reason this time? The pending government shutdown.

As of this writing, the U.S. government has yet to reach a deal to keep the government funded, largely because of the efforts of House Republicans. (The Senate, to their credit, passed a funding plan.) The implications of a temporary government shutdown are numerous, from a pause in marriage licenses in the District of Columbia to a canceled Fat Bear Week. Plus, more nightmarish travel could be on the horizon. Writing at Axios, Alex Fitzpatrick has details on what travelers can expect if the shutdown goes through — and, potentially, even after such a shutdown comes to an end.

The issue here is a shortage of air traffic controllers, which the federal government and the air travel industry have been working to resolve. As U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg recently told press, a government shutdown would have two effects on an ongoing program to train new air traffic controllers: the program would be put on pause, and the people currently in the program would be furloughed. Making things even more complex is that existing air traffic controllers would not be paid during a government shutdown.

Buttigieg stressed that a shutdown could have a significant impact on the air travel industry for months to come. As per Axios’s report, he told members of the media that he “[wanted] to emphasize that the complexity of the hiring and training process means even a shutdown lasting a few days could mean we will not hit our staffing and hiring targets next year.”

One Air Travel Expert Weighs in on Flight Cancellations
“When travel demand started rebounding much quicker than they anticipated, the airlines were caught flat-footed,” says Scott Keyes

It’s one more reason why a government shutdown could have an impact long after it ends. And for an industry that’s still recovering from the pandemic, it could lead to more issues heading into the holiday travel season.


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