Fed Spending Cuts Pose Huge Threat to Air Travel
by Fred Gebhart  and  Maria Lenhart

If across-the-board federal spending cuts become reality on Friday, the resulting reductions in air traffic control and airport security staffing are certain to have a seriously disruptive impact on air travel, according to industry leaders.

GBTA: Serious consequences
The automatic cuts would be “bad news for the millions of business travelers each month,” said Michael McCormick, executive director of GBTA.

He raised the specter of “threatened reductions in air traffic controllers, customs clearance officers, and TSA officials staffing airport checkpoints risk long lines, system slow-downs, and general delays.”

Noting that the consequences are serious for both business travel and the nation’s economy, McCormick urged elected officials to work together to avoid sequestration.

“Rather than blunt cuts with unpredictable ramifications, GBTA supports a return to the regular order of consideration of authorization and appropriations bills in Congress, and a solid, smart approach to funding the government for the next seven months,” he said.

“We need a responsible path forward to address the nation’s concerns about our growing debt and deficits.”   

Warning from LaHood
Earlier this month, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood warned that sequestration would have “serious impacts on transportation services that are critical to the traveling public” in a letter sent to the U.S. Senate Committee of Appropriations.

La Hood noted that the cuts would mean $600 million in spending cuts for the Federal Aviation Agency, resulting in widespread furloughs air traffic controllers, a situation requiring reductions in air traffic.

“The result will be felt across the country as the volume of air travel must be decreased,” he said. “Sequestration could slow air traffic in major cities, which would result in delays and disruptions across the country in the critical summer travel season.”

ASTA: a serious threat
LaHood’s statements are a strong sign of just how serious a threat across-the-board budget cuts pose to the travel industry, Paul Ruden, ASTA’s senior vice president of legal and industry affairs, told Travel Market Report.

“The Secretary of Transportation, who  has more knowledge about what may happen than anybody else, has gone quite far on this,” he said. “He’s saying there will be a lot of problems.”

The possibility of federal layoffs and furloughs are not the only possible consequences – government travel budgets are likely to face cutbacks, said Eben Peck, ASTA’s vice president of government affairs.

‘Going to be a mess’
Among travel managers concerned about tomorrow’s deadline is Ed Adams, CEO of DirecTravel.

“If sequestration does come, it is going to be a mess,” Adams told Travel Market Report. “Planes are already full, so the system doesn’t have much flexibility or capacity to cope with the unexpected.”

However, the fact that many carriers have already been cut back on the number of flights and aircraft in the skies will make the situation easier, he said, adding that “there is less potential for snafus than pre-recession.”

BTC: long-term impact
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, told Travel Market Report, that he fears the sequestration battle could continue for weeks before reaching resolution. That would be “bad for business travelers and bad for airlines,” he said.

“If it continues, business travelers will begin to wonder about the stability of the entire airline system,” he said.

“Travelers are likely to scale back on travel until it gets straightened out. At the very least, they will take another look before every trip to look for ways to avoid travel, whether it’s a web conference, a phone call or even an email exchange.”

Advice for TMCs
Mitchell advised travel managers and business travelers to treat sequestration like a long, drawn-out weather emergency. “Always have alternative airlines and alternative airports in mind,” he said. “Be ready to travel a day early or stay a day later. Know your hotels and don’t hesitate to use them. Better to spend extra hotel dollars than to miss a key meeting.

“It is all the normal things you would do in a weather crisis. It’s just that this crisis could drag on into springtime.”

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