Flight cancellations disrupt Father’s Day and June 1st travel weekend

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Despite a pledge from the airline industry of a renewed focus on reliability, travelers faced chaos over the holiday weekend as nearly 5,000 flights were canceled and more than 27,000 were delayed since Thursday.

Among those caught up in the disruptions: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who ended up driving to New York after his flight from Washington was canceled on Friday. The day before, he met with airline executives about delays over the Memorial Day weekend and how airlines are doing. planning for the rest of the summer travel season.

Problems during the June 19 and Father’s Day weekend came as the Transportation Security Administration reported that more than 2.4 million people were screened at U.S. airports on Friday, the highest number since Thanksgiving weekend. Demand for travel is growing as airlines are grappling with staff shortages and reduced flight schedules, which leaves travelers with fewer options for rebooking when problems arise.

Buttigieg meets with airline executives amid a new round of delays and cancellations

The first signs of trouble came on Thursday, when nearly 1,700 flights within, within or outside the United States were canceled and more than 7,700 were delayed, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. The average duration of delays was 83 minutes.

Airports in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic were initially the most affected. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued ground stops and delays in response to weather and capacity restrictions at airports, including Charlotte Douglas International, a major hub for American Airlines. But as the problems continued over the weekend, the pain was felt in other parts of the country and virtually all US carriers were affected.

Nearly half of JetBlue Airways flights were delayed across the country over the holiday weekend. About 35% of Southwest Airlines flights were delayed, a number that stood at about a third for American Airlines and 30% for Delta Air Lines.

“A number of factors continue to impact our operations, including challenges with air traffic control, weather and unscheduled absences from some workgroups,” Delta said in a statement. “Canceling a flight is always our last resort and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience in their travel plans.”

American and Southwest declined to comment on the delays. JetBlue did not respond to requests for comment.

Was your flight delayed or cancelled? Tell us what happened.

For airline customers, it was a weekend filled with frustration.

Poli Gupta, who was trying to fly from New York to Florida so her teenage son could participate in the International Geography Bee, booked tickets on three airlines, but each canceled the flight, leaving the family stranded in New York.

“There was chaos at the airport,” she wrote via Twitter. “And no one to answer questions or help.”

Others found their way through the chaos, renting cars to drive to their destinations.

Airlines for America, which represents major US airlines, declined to comment on the latest wave of delays on Monday.

Signs of strain on the system have been evident for weeks. In the weekend before Memorial Day, more than 2,900 flights were canceled and more than 18,000, or 26%, were delayed. That same weekend, hundreds of passengers on at least half a dozen planes were stranded for hours at Reagan National Airport after storms prevented flights from arriving or departing.

Passengers Left on Planes for Hours at Reagan National After Storms

Then came Memorial Day weekend, which saw more than 2,600 cancellations and nearly 19,000 flight delays over the four-day period, according to FlightAware.

The weather has always caused problems for airlines, but staff shortages have further hampered carriers’ ability to recover from delays. Several unions representing airline workers have demonstrated and held demonstrations to draw attention to the pressure on employees.

In a rare open letter to customers, Delta Air Lines pilots, who are in contractual negotiations with the carrier, said they shared customers’ frustrations with delays that hampered travel. The union also wrote about the number of aviators in the last two years.

“We have been working on our days off, flying a record amount of overtime to help you get to your destination,” the union wrote. “At the current rate, this fall our drivers will have done more overtime in 2022 than in 2018 and 2019 combined, our busiest years to date.”

In response to the pilots’ letter, Delta said it continually evaluates personnel models to ensure pilots’ schedules meet FAA requirements, as well as those outlined in the carrier’s employment contract.

Delta pilots are among several pilot unions, including those at Alaska Airlines, American and Southwest, joining informational pickets focused on working conditions as they seek labor agreements with carriers.

The flight issues are bringing renewed scrutiny to the industry’s handling of more than $54 billion in pandemic relief funds. The industry argued that the money would keep front-line workers on the job and facilitate recovery when demand picks up.

After last year’s rocky restart and a year-end meltdown fueled by weather and infections linked to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, airline executives have pledged to improve. Many carriers have shortened flight times so customers aren’t trapped by last-minute cancellations. Airlines have increased recruitment and training, offering enrollment bonuses and increasing employee salaries at major airports, including at Dulles International, where United Airlines has offered a $5,000 enrollment bonus to ramp service employees who manage cargo. and luggage.

East Coast storms delay Memorial Day weekend travel plans

Despite these efforts, problems continued.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent letters this month to press airlines and the Department of Transportation for details on how they intend to ensure consumers are fairly compensated. for flight interruptions.

In response, Airlines for America said the industry was doing its best to avoid cancellations and delays, but blamed recent problems on high rates of employee absenteeism and incidents of “untimely extreme weather”. It also pointed to staffing issues at air traffic control facilities, particularly in Florida, where travel volumes at some airports have exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

The FAA said it is working with airlines to change air traffic control staff to meet demand, while also increasing the use of underused routes. The agency met with industry executives in May.

While increased air traffic resources may bring some relief to travelers, weather and staff shortages will likely continue to affect other parts of the system.

According to the Department of Transportation’s most recent Air Travel Consumer Report released in May, the number of complaints about canceled flights rose sharply in March to 506, compared with 54 in the same month last year. Likewise, 219 people filed complaints about delayed flights, compared to 37 in the previous March. Consumer groups say these numbers are low because most travelers don’t file such complaints with the federal government.

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