Although it may be weeks before the full effects of the government sequester are felt, many travelers say that they’re prepared for whatever’s coming down the road.
A mandatory 3 percent cut in the federal budget, which would translate into a 9 percent reduction in the nation’s non-defense discretionary budget for the rest of 2013, could see cutbacks in a wide range of government services, from air traffic controllers to airport security screening.
“The sequester will have a very serious impact on the transportation services that are critical to the traveling public and to the nation’s economy,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared before the sequester took effect on March 1.
Among the casualties: The “vast majority” of the Federal Aviation Administration’s nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year, according to the secretary. That could translate into flight delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours between major cities. “These are harmful cuts with real-world consequences,” said LaHood.
But as the negotiations to resolve the budget deadlock imploded at the end of February, air travelers recalled previous slowdowns and work stoppages that they’ve survived. And still others pointed out a fact that seems to be missing from the media coverage of the budget negotiations, at least when it comes to travel: Most Americans still drive to their destinations, and America’s roads will remain open. Cuts to the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration would probably have no meaningful consequences for motorists.
Tedd Evers, who runs a Washington-based travel site, is prepared with his favorite strategy: “When life presents immovable objects, sometimes it’s better to do like Monty Python’s Sir Robin and run away in the opposite direction.”
He encountered an immovable object recently in the form of a “bloqueo” in Costa Rica, a truckers’ strike in which large tractor-trailers created a blockade on all roads going into the capital, San Jose. “We tried every local road imaginable, using broken Spanish to ask locals the way to the airport,” he recalls. “No way in.”
So he decided to bypass San Jose altogether and extend his trip. He canceled his flight and caught a ferry to Malpais, a less developed part of the coast known for its surfing and postcard-perfect beaches. It ended up being his favorite part of the adventure.
If air traffic controllers are furloughed, passengers such as Jill Kraatz won’t be overly concerned. During the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981, she was headed to Disney World in Orlando with her parents. “When we got to Logan Airport, the strike was in full swing,” remembers Kraatz, an event planner from Oceanside, Calif. “We got to the ticket counter and were informed that our flight was going to have a long delay, and they couldn’t tell us when we could expect to depart. I burst into tears because — well, I was 9, and had spent the entire summer waiting for this trip and now I wasn’t sure I would ever get there.”