Central Florida travel industry braces for possible federal furloughs

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Central Florida's travel industry is working to avoid major problems just in case federal furloughs affect Orlando International Airport.

Channel 9's Mark Joyella talked to airport officials who are worried the region could take a big hit and that the impact would last a lot longer than the budget cuts.

There was no shortage of travelers arriving for Florida vacations at the airport on Monday, with the airport's federal workforce still operating at full strength. But that could change within a matter of weeks if sequestration forces OIA to run with fewer TSA agents at checkpoints and even fewer air traffic controllers in the tower.

"If there's a reduction in personnel, there's a slowing of process, there's a delay, there are long lines, and the impact affects everyone," said Carolyn Fennell of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

So far, theme parks and hotels said they've seen no sign anyone's changed their central Florida vacation plans because of the fear of airport delays, but the Orange County Convention Center has been hit.

The GSA canceled its May meeting in Orlando as the agency anticipates big cuts in its travel budget.

The worst impact of sequestration could come at the height of the summer vacation season, and that's bad for the airport, because the only thing worse than big crowds are no crowds at all, officials said.

"This market very much depends on an expectation of a good experience," said Fennell. "If there's notice or fear that the experience, whether it's air travel or external lines, is going to affect the trip, they may make another decision."

And that kind of reputation damage could linger far longer than the furloughs and layoffs themselves, according to Joyella.

The Orlando Aviation Authority is considering hiring outside contractors to deal with the crowds, but those workers wouldn't be able to handle TSA checkpoints or customs inspections stations.