MIAMI (CBS4) – An estimated 7000 travelers had a miserable weekend at Miami International Airport after missing connections from their international flights.
The chaos was due to federal budget cuts, the so-called sequester, causing Customs and Border Protection to not have enough officers to handle a large number of incoming flights.
Ticket counters sprouted lines hundreds of passengers long, people desperately trying to book new flights.
Many spent Saturday night sleeping on cots or the airport floor.
“I have school, will probably lose work, there’s absolutely no reason why this should be going on,” said Eric Skalka who missed his connection to Chicago.
“We were stuck for 2 1/2 hours in a crowd of at least 300 people,” said Marcus Bell who was trying to make it home to Oregon. His 2 1/2 hour wait was not in line, but waiting to actually get in line for customs.
One woman, trying to make her way to Dallas, said it took six hours for her to clear customs.
“They finally started passing out water bottles, which is when it got better, but it was pretty awful,” said the woman, who did not give her name.
The log jam was due to cutbacks in overtime at customs, causing them to have too a few agents to handle the busy weekend crowd.
Monday brought relief, but there were still sporadic bottlenecks at customs.
Trish Lydon missed her connection to Boston.
“I think cuts can be made, but not where it affects so many people like this,” Lydon said.
Trouble looms for domestic flights as well. The Transportation Safety Administration says cuts to overtime, and a hiring freeze, will result in increased waiting times at security checkpoints. The TSA said passengers can expect, in the coming weeks and months, to spend two or three times longer waiting at checkpoints during peak periods.
The TSA estimates that by Memorial Day weekend, it will have 1,000 fewer agents.
“We have to throw all of this back at Washington,” said MIA spokesperson Mark Henderson. “If Washington would come to some agreement, and do the things they need to do, moneywise, we wouldn’t be having this now.”
Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia of Miami-Dade said, “I understand we need to cut, I understand we need to deal with the deficit, but we don’t deal with it by hurting businesses and hurting families.”
MIA and Port Miami form the county’s largest economic engines.
“We can’t fund our government? There’s no excuse for that, “said Skalka, the passenger struggling to get home to Chicago. “There are bridges in my hometown that are structurally deficient. We can’t take care of that, and we can’t take care of border patrol?”
With hiring freezes, mandatory employee furlough days, and cuts in overtime, conditions promise to get worse.
Beginning April 7, all 50,000 FAA employees, including air traffic controllers, must take 26 unpaid furlough days a year. The furlough mandate also applies to Immigration, Customs and Border Patrol agents.