New York, May 5, 2018: Yellow taxi cabs have formed a line in front of JFK airport's terminal 4.

This article has been updated to reflect NY airspace re-opening.

New York Airspace ground to a standstill Saturday afternoon, in what appeared to be the first sign of wider air traffic shutdowns around the USA. After a confusing series of FAA directives, flights already inbound for New York were allowed to continue after early diversions, and departure traffic is now also being released.

New York Airspace Confusion

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent out a notice requesting all flights bound for New York be halted or diverted. Less than an hour later, it updated guidance to note that inbound flights could still land, but at that point many had already diverted elsewhere. In a third, separate notice, departure traffic was once again allowed to leave New York.

Staff shortages were cited as the reason and traffic has since largely resumed.

In recent weeks, temporary halts in Las Vegas and Chicago were necessary due to staff shortages after air traffic controllers tested positive for covid-19. If this level of uncertainty in a highly skilled and essential field continues, the choice may be made for the administration.

Air traffic controllers can only work specific airspace areas in many cases, and with small teams, a single covid-19 case can shut down entire swaths of US airspace.

What makes this interesting is that it pairs with rumors this week of President Trump mulling a full stop to domestic aviation, in hopes of slowing public health concerns. Specific airlines, including American werere also mulling plans for 2-3 weeks of complete shutdown, though a bailout would make that unlikely.

Airspace has since reopened, but the confusion and botched delivery lends itself to speculation of wider moves around the United States. If air traffic continuity cannot be maintained due to staff shortages amid coronavirus outbreak, flying may become untenable.


Airlines are already reeling from virtually an entire shutdown of international flying, and a complete stand still of domestic flights would bring even more dire operational challenges, particularly after the airlines used recent years of record breaking profits to buy back stock, rather than save.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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8 Comments

  1. Clickbait much? this was a ground stop due to a ATC controller testing positive, so they had to sanitize the entire facility. Hardly a “grounding of all flights” Same thing happened at chicago midway a few days ago.

    1. First Las Vegas, then Chicago, then New York, what if a few controllers in a few centers get it at the same time? Statistically quite likely in the coming weeks.

  2. This is irresponsible reporting. You’re click bait title is misleading just so you can make money off of ad revenue. ZNY shut down because one of the controllers tested positive. Your title made it seem like New York traffic was shit down indefinitely, not temporarily like what actually happened.

      1. I’m talking about your Facebook post, which it looks like most of the other comments are about. You should probably update that title.

  3. Clickbait..NY back open TRACON helped get it up. Whole country to follow? Bloggeres are now the over-hyped media..

    1. Read the headline. It says New York Airspace Briefly Shutdown Over Coronavirus. Trump has been mulling a Nationwide stop to air travel, and even if he doesn’t, covid-19 outbreaks are proving how fragile the system is.

      Highly skilled people who are very limited in number and who can’t just hop over to another territory if there’s a shortage.

      The next few days will be quite telling.

  4. I found your article very informative and not click bait. Those who think it is relish in reading about disasters. The same blood suckers who rubber neck at the first sight of a traffic accident.

    This was caused by just one employee of only a portion of the airline industry. Allbiet a crucial portion, still only one of hundreds of individuals necessary to get a single aircraft off the ground.
    Due to the lack of action from the government early on, it is inevitable that this is just the tip of the iceberg. All industries will be adversely affected causing world war time food supply shortages, leading to crime and violence. Some states already called up their national guard, the writing is on the wall. We should all learn from this article instead of bitching because you felt your time was wasted.
    Thank you for a well written article!

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