The Federal Aviation Administration reported delays in air travel Friday because of a "slight increase in sick leave" at two East Coast air traffic control facilities, though the affect on Chicago’s airports appeared to be limited.
The delays came as the partial government shutdown threatened to undermine the nation's air travel system. Air traffic controllers and airport security agents have been working without pay since the federal shutdown began in December.
The shutdown, which has lasted 35 days, may be coming to an end, for now: President Donald Trump announced Friday afternoon that he has agreed to a plan to fund the government for three weeks, through Feb. 15.
A “ground stop” at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and delays at other East Coast airports affected airlines that serve Chicago, but they may not have caused significant delays at either O’Hare International or Midway airports as of Friday morning.
LaGuardia in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey were the hardest hit, but delays rippled across the nation's air-travel system.
“We are closely monitoring the situation on the East Coast today,” Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in an emailed statement. ”While we are experiencing no direct impact to operations at O’Hare, we encourage travelers heading to locations on the East Coast to call their airlines well in advance of their scheduled departure time to check flight status.”
O’Hare was second only to LaGuardia in flight delays Friday morning, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. A posting on the FAA website attributed the delays to “taxiway congestion.”
A spokesman for Chicago-based United Airlines said the delays at O’Hare were not a result of a LaGuardia ground stop.
“It’s business as usual at O’Hare,” United spokesman Charlie Hobart said. “The delays are volume-related — somewhat longer taxi times on the ground — just because it’s Friday and heavy traffic.”
Southwest Airlines, which flies out of Midway to both LaGuardia and Newark, said the shortage of air traffic control staff was affecting its operations, but the airline did not share data for Chicago.
“Southwest is currently monitoring today’s (air traffic control) programs, and we are experiencing some flight delays,” Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said in an email. “We encourage customers to check their flight status at Southwest.com for the most up-to-date information on today’s operations.”
American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said in an email that the airline hasn’t experienced significant impacts to its operations or schedule but continues to monitor the situation, working closely with the FAA.
“Our goal is to minimize disruptions for our customers and our team members taking care of our customers,” Gilson said. “In this spirit, we urge that the federal government be reopened before shutdown impacts begin to escalate.”
Likewise, United’s Hobart said Friday’s delays are “another good illustration of the escalating impact of the government shutdown and the need for the federal government to promptly reopen.”
FAA spokesman Gregory Martin said Friday that it had augmented staffing, rerouted traffic and increased spacing between planes as needed.
The staffing problems were at air traffic centers in Jacksonville, Fla., and a Washington, D.C., center that controls high-altitude air traffic over seven states.
"The results have been minimal impacts to efficiency while maintaining consistent levels of safety in the national airspace system," Martin said in an emailed statement.
Sanjay Shetty was waiting at LaGuardia to board a flight to Detroit when he heard an announcement about a ground stop due to a "staff shortage" around 10:15 a.m. Eastern. He said he and other passengers eventually started boarding at 10:50 a.m. — the plane's scheduled departure time. It wasn't clear when they would get off the ground.
"The shutdown hadn't affected me until now," the management consultant from Ann Arbor, Mich., tweeted.
The Associated Press contributed.