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Airline executives have warned us for weeks that air travel disruptions were coming

Heidi Chung
Reporter

Major U.S. airports are officially feeling the wrath of the partial government shutdown.

The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) announced Friday morning that staffing shortages have caused air traffic delays at major hubs across the nation. Flights are were temporarily halted at LaGuardia Airport in New York, according to the FAA. Flights out of Washington’s Reagan National Airport, Philadelphia’s International Airport, and Newark International Airport in New Jersey are also experiencing heavy delays.

As the ripple effects tear through airports on day 35 of the shutdown, U.S. airline executives have been warning the public in recent weeks about its effects.

Delta Airlines was the first major U.S. airline to comment on the shutdown following its earnings report on Tuesday, January 15. “Now, with respect to the government shutdown, we are seeing some pressure on our business. On the revenue front, we’re experiencing about $25 million per month in lower government travel. The bigger impact is on our operation; with non-essential work at the FAA shutdown, our Airbus 220 start date is likely to be pushed back due to delays in the certification process. This is also hampering our ability to put seven other new aircraft deliveries into service, but it’s our customers who are seeing the biggest impact, with longer lines at airport security,” CEO Ed Bastian said.

“We are working closely with TSA on any steps we can take to minimize these delays, including mobilizing Delta employees to perform nonessential aspects of the security process. We strongly encourage our elected officials to do their very best to resolve their differences and get our government fully open as quickly as possible,” he said.

Departing passengers wait to board a Southwest Airlines plane at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, January 16, United Airlines was asked about the government shutdown on the earnings conference call. Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella said, “While it has gotten weaker, we believe it will improve as we enter peak travel in Q2. Overall, we do not think anything fundamental has changed as we look at the demand environment. That being said, the government shutdown and other factors have created some uncertainty in our Q1 outlook, and as such, we’ve guided to a 3 point range in yield revenue this quarter.”

Following their earnings reports on Thursday, January 24, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest issued comments on the shutdown’s impact on air travel.

During American Airlines Group’s earnings call, President Robert Isom said, “First-off, our team in conjunction with our partners both at the FAA and from a security perspective TSA were always going to make the right decision for the safety and security of our team members and our customers. So there is no doubt, no lack of confidence in what we have in front of us. That said, we don’t need distractions, we need people to be at work and confident and taking care of, and we do that at American with our team and we need to get our partners in a situation where they feel similarly confident in being taken care of.”

American Airlines Group Chairman & CEO Doug Parker followed up and added, “To Robert’s point, our business is so focused on safety that to the extent there are fewer TSA people are fewer air traffic controllers. What tends to happen is you get long lines at TSA, but still the same level of scrutiny. You get larger separation of aircraft, so you have delayed air space. It was really concerning to us. So that’s what we feared may happen. We want to thank all the people at TSA and all of our air traffic controllers who are showing us without actually getting pay checks and taking care of our team, taking care of flying public, it’s phenomenal what they’re doing we appreciate what they’re doing. And we would encourage our government to get them to a position where these hard-working people would be paid for what they’re doing.”

In addition, JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes mentioned on the company’s earnings conference call on Thursday, “At this point, we’ve not seen a significant impact to our operations nor our bookings. However, we are increasingly concerned about the shutdown’s consequences for convenient and efficient air travel and for the economy overall. We are close to a tipping point as many of these employees are about to miss a second paycheck. Our crew members and customers are likely to face extended security delays — extended security lines, flight delays and even cancellations. And the longer this goes on, the longer it will take for the air travel infrastructure to rebound. Our nation believes they must find a resolution to this stalemate today. We will be closely monitoring the events and will provide any updates if needed.”

Alaska Air Group CFO Brandon Pedersen said, “As far as government shutdown goes per say, we have not seen any material impact at all to date as it relates to fares and travel although down the road and if Ben wants to comment that, if this continues there will be some real challenges operationally.”

“So as for of the government shutdown, I’ll sum it up in a word is maddening. And I will also state the obvious here which is that no one can predict what impact it will have if it continues.” Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said on the company’s earnings call on Thursday.

Read more: Flights into New York's LaGuardia halted amid shutdown staff shortage

Heidi Chung is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @heidi_chung.

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