Air traffic controller furloughs could delay flights to Alaska

ANCHORAGE — Flights to Alaska could be delayed because of air traffic controller furloughs throughout the country, the state’s main air carrier announced.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines said it would not immediately cancel company flights but warned travelers to check their flight’s status before heading to the airport.

The airline, using information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, instructed customers heading to its largest hub cities to prepare for delays of 50 minutes to two hours.

The number of planes landing at airports could be reduced 30 percent to 40 percent, affecting Alaska travelers who often must rely on connections to reach destinations, the airline said.

Unpaid furloughs of air traffic controllers were forced by the mandatory reduction in federal spending that kicked in last month when a budget agreement could not be worked out in Congress. One out of three air travelers could be affected, according to Airlines for America, a trade organization.

The FAA warned of effects on travelers to Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Newark, San Diego and San Francisco.

Allen Kenitzer, an FAA spokesman for Alaska, told the Anchorage Daily News that he could not give the number of air traffic controllers going on furlough in Alaska.

All air traffic controllers will have to take one furlough day per two-week pay period, he said.

The FAA provided little specific information, said Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy, and it was not immediately apparent when furloughs would start.

“Some airplanes will be delayed, and then potentially, if the delays start backing up and getting too severe, then the airlines just start to cancel flights,” McElroy said. “All of this is really just speculation. We don’t know until the furloughs go into effect, and then we’ll see the actual consequences.”

Alaska Airlines eventually may have to cancel flights, McElroy said. Passengers who miss connecting flights due to delays will not be charged a fee to make new connections.

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