New York passengers were facing a night of misery on Monday, as the Federal Aviation Authority announced there would be extensive delays at airports across the region due to a shortage of air traffic controllers.
As of 6pm Eastern Time, LaGuardia airport was hardest hit, with a ‘ground stop’ implemented for some air traffic control zones – meaning flights destined for the airport were not allowed to take off.
Newark and JFK were also experiencing delays.
One woman tweeted a photo of an empty gate at JFK, and demanded information from the airport staff.
‘@JetBlue, what the hell is this?!’ she said.
‘2.5 hrs & counting, & now even the desk operator at the gate has abandoned us.
‘No explanation still about what’s happening with 1719 JFK to Atlanta?! I had just ordered your credit card thinking that I’ll frequent JetBlue & I am so regretting it!’
Another man tweeted: ‘Well. My flight is canceled. Sat at JFK Terminal before someone at the airport told me it’s canceled. Just got an email from LOT. Rescheduling flight for tomorrow.’
One passenger, arriving from Denver, complained that he had to wait an hour on the tarmac at Newark on Monday night before disembarking.
Another described the air space for New York as ‘a black hole’, while another blamed relaxing COVID rules, which increased the spread of the virus among staff.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) confirmed to DailyMail.com that the delay was due to staff shortages.
A traveler at LaGuardia airport. Passengers passing through the airport on Monday night were told to expect delays
Flight Aware’s ‘Misery Map’ showed issues in the New York area. Denver is also facing problems on Monday night, but their issues are due to weather
National Airspace System Status dashboard showed that the issue was with air traffic controllers in the New York sector (ZNY), with the source of the problem confirmed in the comments section
The New York region – ZNY – is seen on the air traffic control map
The National Airspace System Status dashboard showed that the issue was with air traffic controllers in the New York sector (ZNY), writing: ‘COMMENTS: STOP IS FOR ZNY STAFFING’.
‘Due to the availability of staff tonight, the FAA must reduce the flow of aircraft in certain airspace serving New York City to maintain safety,’ said Tony Molinaro, FAA spokesman.
‘Departure and arrival delays this evening could approach two hours at John F. Kennedy International, New York LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports.
‘Passengers should prepare for delays, and monitor for updates. Please check with your airline for information about specific flights.’
The FAA tweeted: ‘Due to unexpected staff availability tonight, the FAA must reduce the flow of aircraft around New York City to maintain safety.
‘Evening delays may be 2 hrs at @JFKairport, @LGAairport & @EWRairport.
‘Check for updates & w/ your airline for flight info.’
It was unclear what in particular has caused Monday’s New York staffing shortage.
The New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, known by the initials ZNY, is pictured in Ronkonkoma, on Long Island
One of the control towers at LaGuardia Airport is pictured, as the airport deals with delays
Airlines for America, a lobbying group, told DailyMail.com they could not comment on the circumstances of Monday’s staff shortage in the New York region.
But in June, the industry trade body told Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation Secretary, in a letter that staffing challenges are disrupting flights even in good weather.
They said on June 24 that the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center in Florida had been ‘understaffed for 27 of the last 30 days, which is crippling to the entire east coast traffic flows.’
Travelers have endured a difficult summer amid record demand, and as airlines rebuild staff levels after thousands of workers left the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FAA responded in a statement that ‘after receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief to help save the airlines from mass layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people deserve to have their expectations met.’
The agency added it ‘has acted on the issues raised in the letter’ including adding alternate routes, placing more controllers in high demand areas, and increasing data sharing.
The FAA said in May it would boost air traffic control staff in Florida.
The letter said one carrier estimated ATC-related issues ‘were a factor in at least one-third of recent cancellations.’
The group said ATC ‘staffing challenges have led to traffic restrictions under blue sky conditions.’
The letter also said it was ‘imperative’ to ensure adequate staffing at New York Terminal Radar Approach Control.
On August 15, the FAA told The Wall Street Journal it plans to hire 1,500 new air traffic controllers nationwide, starting next fiscal year – October 1.
‘Where demand has increased, the FAA is adding additional controllers,’ the FAA said.
The Federal Aviation Administration says it has received 57,956 applications for this year’s 1,500 open air traffic controller positions.
Last week, the head of the ATC union slammed the FAA for not hiring fast enough and said there are now thousands fewer available controllers.
‘In 2011, there were over 11,750 Certified Professional Controllers and additional trainees yielding over 15,000 total controllers on board at the FAA,’ said ATC union leader Rich Santa.
‘By the beginning of 2022, there were more than 1,000 fewer fully certified controllers, and 1,500 fewer total controllers on board, a number that has declined for at least the past 11 years,’ he continued.
The median annual salary for an air traffic controller is approximately $138,556, and all applicants must be under 30-years-old.
President of National Air Traffic Controllers Association Rich Santa (left), who has called for the FAA to speed up its hiring process, stands with President Biden
LaGuardia and Newark Liberty top the table of America’s worst airports for flight cancelations, according to new data.
The FAA maintains it is on track to meet its hiring goals for the year, and said in a statement ‘The FAA annually hires new air traffic controllers, is on target to meet our hiring goal this year, and is reducing the backlog of training caused by COVID-19.’
But Santa says the decrease in air traffic controllers is inexcusable given the ‘introduction of new technology and new entrants into the National Airspace System.’
‘We should have 1,000 more controllers, not 1,000 fewer than we had a decade ago,’ Santa said, but ‘FAA staffing is not keeping up with attrition.’
Buttigieg has had to step in and reassure airlines and customers he is doing all he can to mend the problems.
‘We’re also working to make sure that FAA personnel, the air traffic control side, is ready to support these flights,’ Buttigieg said last month.
‘So when we have an area where there’s a staffing issue, it’s been happening in Florida where you’ve had huge demand and a lot of weather and other issues like military and even commercial space launches affecting the airspace.’
The continued chaos comes as American Airlines announced it would be cutting two percent of flights from its schedule in September and October, CNN reported.
According to the airline, the cuts were ‘proactive adjustments’ in order to accommodate the resources it currently has available and build a ‘buffer’ into the remainder of its summer schedule.
The airline says it will reach out to passengers directly with ‘alternative travel options’ and provide full refunds to those who reject the new flight arrangements.
The airline also announced it will be cutting service to four smaller cities starting on September 7. They said they will no longer be flying to Islip and Ithaca in New York, Toledo, Ohio or Dubuque, Iowa.
American Airlines spokesperson Brian Metham said the changes were due to a ‘lack of regional pilots.’