MIA passengers wait for hours due to low staffing
MIAMI (WSVN) -- Federal budget cuts are hitting home and travelers are being forced to wait for hours in long lines at Miami International Airport due to the sequester.
Over 7,000 passengers missed their flights or experienced long delays at MIA over the weekend. "People were cutting people off, and I was holding people off," said Brad Jones. "People were yelling and screaming. There was a couple of fights."
Passengers said it was an interminable wait at customs. "I thought there was gonna be unbelievable riots up there," said Pam Fogle-Smith.
"It took a little over two hours just to get through customs," said Jones. In some cases, wait times jumped to three to four hours.
"The lines were not going to get better, they were going to get worse," said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, "and that prediction came true." The congresswoman toured local airports Monday to witness the delays firsthand. She called the situation "unacceptable."
According to a passenger, conditions do not appear to have improved on Monday as the sequester continues. "They're cutting people off and holding people back, so international flights can go through and stop us, so we've been waiting at a place for over an hour and a half doing nothing," he said.
The airport has stated that the federal government's sequestration is slowing down travel. 7News viewers snapped a picture of a sign that read, "Due to federal budget cuts, Customs and Border Protection (CPB) staffing has been reduced and wait times are longer than usual. Please be patient as CPB officers process passengers as quickly as possible."
MIA representative Mark Henderson admitted the increased wait times are too much to ask of travelers. "It's not acceptable to us, and it's not acceptable to Customs and Border Protection," he said, "and it's not their fault here."
Some passengers were deplaned from the Dominican Republic only to be welcomed back to this. "We landed at 5:15," said Ray, "actually 15 minutes earlier than we were supposed to, I believe. It was like 7:45, and we finally made it up to here for them to take our baggage, and they wouldn't take it.
There were not enough agents to get passengers through to their connecting flights. "Now we are re-booked on stand-by at 7:10 in the morning," said Fogle-Smith. "Some of us will get out to Chicago, but some of us won't."
Endless lines and raging tempers at the staffing shortage have left flyers to fend for themselves and airlines left to pick up the mess. "They're afraid for what's going to happen with all these people," said Fogle-Smith. "They're scared."
Several travelers said American Airlines was helpful by either getting them re-booked as fast as possible or by setting up cots and making the accommodations at the airport as comfortable as possible for people who missed those connecting flights, but they are worried this could be an ongoing problem until the budget cuts are resolved.
These budget cuts could affect regional airports as well. The Federal Aviation Association is reportedly considering closing air control towers at Opa-Locka Airport and North Perry Airport in Hollywood.
Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi collected petitions and turned them in to the FAA last week. "I'm going to demand on behalf of the people of Miami Lakes and the people of Miami-Dade County that the FAA leave the flight tower open at Opa-Locka Airport," he said.
The FAA is expected to reach a decision as early as Friday.
Officials encourage travelers to exercise patience and to arrive a little earlier for their departing flights.
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