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Warnings of 'Tipping Point' in Trump Shutdown as Airport Staff Shortages Cause Major Flight Delays

"This is horrendous. Donald Trump must give up his racist wall and Republicans in Congress must vote now to end this shutdown. The human cost is only going to increase and more and more Americans are going to suffer."

A protestor holds a placard stating 'STOP THE SHUTDOWN' while demonstrating with Philadelphia Airport TSA and airport workers outside the Philadelphia International Airport on January 25, 2019 in Philadelphia. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Has the record-long government shutdown over President Donald Trump's border wall demand finally reached a "tipping point"?

Many answered in the affirmative on Friday after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) halted flights into New York's LaGuardia Airport due a shortage of air traffic controllers, who are among the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who have now missed their second paycheck as the partial shutdown heads into its fifth week.

"We've finally hit a pain point in the government shutdown that will bring about either legislation to end the shutdown or a crisis that impacts far more than the federal employees who have so far borne the brunt of the shutdown."
—Conor Sen, Bloomberg

In addition to the LaGuardia stoppage—which was eventually lifted—major airports in Philadelphia and Newark also reported significant delays because of staff shortages.

As Vox's Dara Lind noted, "It's the first time the partial government shutdown, which has now lasted five weeks, has affected air traffic, although some airports have had to briefly reduce the number of security checkpoints due to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel shortages."

Bloomberg's Conor Sen argued that the flight stoppage and delays shows that "we've finally hit a pain point in the government shutdown that will bring about either legislation to end the shutdown or a crisis that impacts far more than the federal employees who have so far borne the brunt of the shutdown."

Democratic lawmakers were quick to seize upon the flight disarray as yet another urgent reason that the government shutdown must end immediately.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the delays "horrendous" and said Trump "must give up his racist wall and Republicans in Congress must vote now to end this shutdown."

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Also addressing Trump directly, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) added, "Your shutdown is not only hurting federal employees and people who need government services, it's now impacting the general public and the whole economy. End your shutdown now. Pay federal workers."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined the chorus highlighting the flight delays, asking, "Do you understand the economic [and] social impact of grounding flights because two people are insisting on a project now that the majority of Americans oppose?"

As Common Dreams reported, air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants warned on Wednesday that flight safety is "deteriorating by the day" as public employees tasked with securing the nation's air travel system have been forced to work without pay for weeks.

In an interview with Splinter published just before the FAA's announcement on Friday, Sara Nelson—the leader of the Association of Flight Attendants who this week called for a general labor strike to end the shutdown—said the U.S. aviation system is "rapidly approaching a breaking point."

"We don't know what the exact breaking point is for the people who are just holding this together with sheer will power," Nelson said. "These TSA officers and air traffic controllers are absolute heroes. They know what it means to the country if they decide to put in their retirement paperwork. If they decide to leave their posts. What will happen is, [even] if our safety and security is not impacted—and I hope and pray every moment that is not the case—we will see a slowdown in capacity of the aviation industry. And it will cripple our economy, and there will be massive job loss."

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