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John Hitt, a 51-year-old lawyer based in Boston, had expected to fly to Milwaukee via LaGuardia on Friday morning to visit his terminally ill aunt, but Delta Air Lines told him his flight was delayed for at least two and a half hours.

Trump spoke at the White House on Friday as intensifying delays at some of the nation's busiest airports and widespread disruptions brought new urgency to efforts to break the impasse.

"Southwest is now monitoring today's (air traffic control) programs, and we are experiencing some flight delay", Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said in an email. "As with severe storms, we will adjust operations to a safe rate to match available controller resources", the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

As of Friday morning, the staffing issues are occurring at the Washington ARTCC (Air Route Traffic Control Center) and at the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, both of which are facilities that control aircraft while they're flying at high altitudes between airports.

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The White House says President Donald Trump has briefed on airport delays amid the extended partial government shutdown. While those companies are paid either by the airports they serve or by the national government (as in Canada), the security companies have a strong reputational interest in keeping their service operating at 100 percent, even if government is late making payments to them.

There are reports of cascading delays at other airports related to the staffing shortage as well.

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On Tuesday, the nation's largest unions for pilots, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers said in a joint statement that "in our risk averse industry, we can not even calculate the level of risk now at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break".

The delays - as the partial federal government shutdown entered its fifth week - come less than two days after the president of a major air traffic controllers union warned it poses a major safety risk.

The LaGuardia delay, which was scheduled to last until 10:45am ET, according to the FAA website, resulted in flights being grounded for an average of 41 minutes. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired air traffic controllers who conducted an illegal strike, dealing a major and long-lasting defeat to organized labor.

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had the second-longest wait time, of 19 minutes. TSA would not to reveal callout rates for individual airports. The move, which requires agreements in the Senate and Congress, could mean the 800,000 government workers will begin receiving paycheques.

Air traffic controller staffing nationwide also already had been a key FAA consideration.

"This is exactly what AFA and other aviation unions have been warning would happen", said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.