NEW YORK — It was a tough start to the week for many air travelers. Flight delays piled up all along the East Coast Monday as thousands of air traffic controllers were forced to take an unpaid day off because of federal budget cuts.
Some flights into New York, Baltimore and Washington were delayed by more than two hours as the Federal Aviation Administration kept planes on the ground because there weren't enough controllers to monitor busy air corridors.
One out of every five flights at New York's LaGuardia International scheduled to take off before noon on Monday was delayed 15 minutes or more, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Last Monday morning, just 2 percent of LaGuardia's flights were delayed. The situation was similar at Washington's Reagan National Airport, in Newark, N.J. and in Philadelphia.
Some flights were late by two hours or more.
For instance, the 8 a.m. US Airways shuttle from Washington to New York pushed back from the gate six minutes early but didn't take off until 9:58 a.m. The plane landed at 10:48 a.m. — more than two and a half hours late.
If travelers instead took Amtrak's 8 a.m. Acela Express train from Washington, they arrived in New York at 10:42 a.m. — 4 minutes early.
The furloughs are part of mandatory budget cuts that kicked in on March 1 after Democrats and Republicans missed a deadline to agree on a long-term deficit reduction plan.
FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 air traffic controllers. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.
Critics have said the FAA could reduce its budget in other spots that wouldn't delay travelers.
Monday is typically one of the busiest days at airports with many business travelers setting out for a week on the road. The FAA's controller cuts — a 10 percent reduction of its staff — went into effect Sunday but the full force wasn't felt until Monday morning.
Some travel groups have warned that the disruptions could hurt the economy.