NEW YORK — A day after flight delays plagued much of the nation, air travel was smoother Tuesday, but the government warned passengers that the situation could change by the hour as thousands of air-traffic controllers are forced to take furloughs because of budget cuts.
Airlines and members of Congress urged the Federal Aviation Administration to find other ways to reduce spending. Airlines are worried about the long-term costs late flights will have on their budgets and on passengers.
"I just can't imagine this stays in place for an extended period of time," US Airways chief executive officer Doug Parker said.
The delays are a visible effect of Congress and the White House's failure to agree on a long-term deficit-reduction plan.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said no one should be surprised, saying he warned about potential problems two months ago. "This has nothing to do with politics," he said. "This is very bad policy that Congress passed, and they should fix it."
The FAA's critics insist the agency could reduce its budget in other ways. But FAA officials say they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees — including nearly 15,000 controllers — as salaries make up 70 percent of the agency's budget. Each employee will lose one day of work every two weeks.
Planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.
About 400 delays piled up Sunday and another 1,200 Monday that were linked to the furloughs. Delays were minimal for most of Tuesday.