WestJet, Air Canada warn of flight delays as staffing issues disrupt major U.S. airports

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WATCH: U.S. government shutdown causes flight delays – Jan 25, 2019

Some Canadian travellers are feeling the impacts of the U.S. government’s partial shutdown as a shortage of air traffic controllers disrupts operations at some major U.S. travel hubs.

Flights are being delayed at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Philadelphia International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey due to staffing issues, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

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U.S. air traffic controllers aren’t getting paid – but Canadian colleagues sent pizza – Jan 13, 2019

Air traffic at LaGuardia is delayed roughly one hour and 30 minutes on average Friday morning, while departing flights from Philadelphia and Newark were delayed roughly one hour and 15 minutes, according to the FAA.

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“There is a Traffic Management Program in effect for traffic arriving La Guardia Airport, New York, NY (LGA),” per the FAA website. “This is causing some arriving flights to be delayed an average of 41 minutes.”

Airports in Atlanta and Miami are also reporting delays between 45 minutes to over one hour.

Air Canada said on its website that flights at Newark and LaGuardia may be impacted due to air “traffic control restrictions.”

READ MORE: Canadians warned about U.S. travel delays as TSA agents call in sick amid shutdown

“Air Canada has revised its ticketing policy for customers booked on affected flights to facilitate changes to bookings,” the airline said. “Those customers wishing to make alternate travel arrangements can do so without penalty, space permitting.”

WestJet Airlines reported delayed and canceled flights and expects “further delays and possible cancellations if more constraints are placed” on the U.S. air traffic system, a spokesperson said Friday.

“We are responding to the situation as required to keep our guests moving,” said WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart by email.

READ MORE: Dueling bills head to U.S. Senate to end historic shutdown

FAA spokesperson Gregory Martin said in a statement that issues occurred at two air-traffic facilities: one in Washington, D.C., that controls high-altitude air traffic over seven states, and another in Jacksonville, Fla.

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“We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two facilities. We’ve mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft when needed,” Martin said in a statement. “The results have been minimal impacts to efficiency while maintaining consistent levels of safety in the national airspace system.”

The air traffic delays come amid a government shutdown that is now in its 35th day, the longest shutdown of federal agencies in U.S. history. Friday marked the second missed paycheck for 800,000 federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump has been briefed on the situation.

“The President has been briefed and we are monitoring the ongoing delays at some airports,” Sanders said. “We are in regular contact with officials at the Department of Transportation and the FAA.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement Friday that “the planes will stay on the ground” unless the government shutdown is ended.

“The aviation system depends on the safety professionals who make it run. They have been doing unbelievably heroic work even as they are betrayed by the government that employs them,” Nelson said. “They are fatigued, worried, and distracted – but they won’t risk our safety. So the planes will stay on the ground.

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“Do we have your attention now, Leader McConnell? All lawmakers? Open the government and then get back to the business of democracy to discuss whatever issue you so choose. This shutdown must end immediately. Our country’s entire economy is on the line.”

On Thursday, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways said the impact of the shutdown on their business had been limited but was nearing a tipping point.

“No one can predict what impact it will have as it continues,” Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said of the shutdown.

With files from the Associated Press

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