NBC Host Recalls Pilot Urging Passengers to Sign Petition Against FAA Furloughs

On Wednesday's NBC Today, news anchor Natalie Morales complained about having a flight delayed due to the FAA furloughing air traffic controllers in the wake of the sequester: "I was traveling to Boston yesterday, which is a 50-minute flight, shuttle. And it took me about two and a half hours to get there....the pilots got on and they said, 'It's not the airline's fault....you can go online and sign the petition to end the furloughs.'" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

The account echoed a similar report from CNBC's Jim Cramer, who on Tuesday's Squawk Box explained: "We were about to take off and the pilot comes back and doesn't see me initially, CNBC. And says, 'look, we just got word the FAA says that we don't have enough air traffic controllers to take off. It's part of the sequester.'"

Both Morales and Cramer seemed to use the respective incidents to bolster Obama administration hype about the dire consequences of the modest reduction in government spending.

National Review's Andrew Stiles detailed the FAA's "sequester theatrics":

Since 2000, the FAA's operations budget has increased more than 50 percent, while domestic air traffic has declined 27 percent during the same period....Under sequestration, the FAA is required to cut $637 million, or roughly 5 percent, from its $12.5 billion budget.

Thune and Shuster identified in the FAA’s budget $2.7 billion in annual non-personnel operations costs that they say "should have been examined before furloughs were considered." That includes $500 million in consultant fees, $179 million in travel expenses for employees, and $143 million in operating costs for the FAA's own fleet of 46 aircraft.

"Thoroughly examining real areas of potential savings, and not resorting to scare tactics and the punishment of employees and the public for political purposes, is the only way to productively move forward and ensure that the FAA upholds its stated commitment to the flying public," the lawmakers wrote on March 7.

On Today, Morales elaborated: "[The airlines are] saying they're not responsible. They're saying, you know, it's an air traffic control situation. Because of the furloughs, they're not able to manpower all of the air traffic control posts. So, you know, therefore, we all end up suffering. And I think they're passing the blame around."

Weatherman Al Roker chimed in: "One third of LaGuardia flights were delayed yesterday." Co-host Willie Geist added: "LaGuardia, 20% delayed at Reagan National in D.C., Newark and Philly as well. These are central hubs, so there's a ripple effect for any delays at any of these airports."

Geist also brought up the political "blame game" in Washington over the sequester and actually noted GOP criticism of the White House: "Members of the Senate, Republicans blaming President Obama, saying he actually wanted this to force someone's hand in all of this."

Morales wrapped up the discussion: "And you wonder now, when it hits, you know, the travel system and the conveniences of everyday life, things that you take for granted, are people going to really start pushing?"

During a news brief in the 7 a.m. ET hour of the NBC morning show, Morales admitted that "Air travel is getting smoother across much of the country" but still told viewers that "the government is warning passengers that furloughs of air traffic controllers could still cause more delays."

On Monday's Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams hoped the "traffic jam" at airports would cause Americans to "take further notice" of the sequester.


Here is a full transcript of the April 24 panel discussion:

9:04AM ET

WILLIE GEIST: Our Take Two, if you're traveling today, if you've been anywhere near an airport for the last couple of days you know how ugly things-

[AL ROKER POINTS AT NATALIE MORALES]

NATALIE MORALES: I got stuck.

GEIST: Tell your story, first of all.

MORALES: I was traveling to Boston yesterday, which is a 50-minute flight, shuttle. And it took me about two and a half hours to get there, because I was stuck for an hour and a half on the runway, like twenty five planes parked, waiting to go off, for liftoff. And on the return, the same deal. So two and a half  – two and a half hours again coming home.

GEIST: And as you point out, there's a passing of the buck. The pilot comes on and said, "If you've got a problem with it, call the FAA."

MORALES: Right.

GEIST: The FAA says, "Don't talk to us, talk to Congress who put this sequester in place to begin with."

MORALES: Yeah, the pilots got on and they said, "It's not the airline's fault. We're sorry that you're waiting here and sitting on the runway, we know you're all frustrated. But you can go online and sign the petition to end the furloughs."

AL ROKER: And then what happens now with those – you know, the fines that if you're on a tarmac on a plane stuck for more-

GEIST: Oh, that's a good point.

ROKER: You know, what happens? Are the airlines responsible for that? Are they gonna try to-

MORALES: Well, the airlines are saying no-
 
ROKER: Are they gonna try to get a waiver?

MORALES: No, they're saying they're not responsible. They're saying, you know, it's an air traffic control situation. Because of the furloughs, they're not able to manpower all of the air traffic control posts. So, you know, therefore, we all end up suffering. And I think they're passing the blame around.

ROKER: One third of LaGuardia flights were delayed yesterday.

GEIST: LaGuardia, 20% delayed at Reagan National in D.C., Newark and Philly as well. These are central hubs, so there's a ripple effect for any delays at any of these airports. And of course there's been the blame game, back and forth in Washington yesterday. Members of the Senate, Republicans blaming President Obama, saying he actually wanted this to force someone's hand in all of this.

MORALES: And you wonder now, when it hits, you know, the travel system and the conveniences of everyday life, things that you take for granted, are people going to really start pushing?

ROKER: You know who loves it, though? Amtrak.

MORALES: Yes.

GEIST: Yes, that's right.

ROKER: Take the train.

GEIST: Well, listen, if you're going to D.C. this weekend, it's probably a good idea to hop on the train.

MORALES: For the Correspondents' Dinner, right?

GEIST: Absolutely, absolutely. 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC