The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights headed to New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Friday, and thousands of unpaid IRS workers didn’t show up for work (see below), marking what is perhaps a turning point in the ongoing government shutdown.
Citing safety concerns stemming from a shortage of air traffic control staff, the FAA’s decision to halt all incoming traffic to one of the country’s largest airports is a significant, if not altogether unexpected development as the government shutdown is expected to drag into its sixth week. Earlier this week the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Air Line Pilots Association, and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA issued a joint statement regarding their “growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown.”
In an interview published on Splinter prior to the FAA’s decision on Friday, Association of Flight Attendants head Sara Nelson emphasized the airline industry’s overall commitment to safety, and worried that the ongoing shutdown had put that commitment in jeopardy.
“We are rapidly approaching a breaking point,” Nelson said, when asked whether talks of suspending services had been limited to just her union, or the airline industry as a whole.
On Twitter, the FAA attempted to downplay the airport delays, attributing it to a “slight increase in sick leave at two facilities.”
Efforts to end the ongoing shutdown failed in Congress on Thursday, with two bills—one proposed by president Trump, and the other by Senate Democrats—both falling short of the votes needed to pass.
Already the past several weeks have seen multiple reports of unusually long lines, interminable waits, and other shutdown-related inconveniences at the nation’s airports. But by shutting down LaGuardia’s incoming traffic altogether—a move that appears connected to delays in other major airports, including Newark and Philadelphia—the FAA may have pushed things into wholly new territory, one in which the effects of the government shutdown will rapidly start cascading into a wholesale disruption of daily American life—not just for those federal employees furloughed by the Trump administration, but the country as a whole.
Update, 11:24 a.m. ET: AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson has released a statement addressing today’s flight delays.
Update, 11:38 a.m. ET: The Washington Post reports that at least 14,000 IRS employees have also stayed home as the shutdown’s effect deepens.
Update, 3:05 p.m. ET:
It looks like it’s over, for now. Trump announced a deal to re-open the government and end the shutdown on Friday afternoon in the face of sick-outs by federal workers. The deal agrees to fund the government for three weeks without any provisions for the president’s border wall, although Trump mentioned another shut down or calling a national emergency if a “fair deal” on the wall and national budget isn’t reached in those three weeks.
This is a developing story and will be updates as new information becomes available.