Time and staff shortages Cripple Airlines

  • U.S. airport chaos has become the norm, with cancellations on major weekends occurring four times as often as in 2019.
  • US airlines delayed or canceled more than 35,000 flights over the June 19 and Father’s Day weekend.
  • Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt told Insider that weather and staffing issues are causing the disruptions.

Travelers hoping for a smooth trip after nearly two years of COVID disruptions are being faced with an airport nightmare: Airlines have canceled flights over four times as many major travel weekends this year compared to 2019, according to a report. Insider analysis of US flight data.

It’s creating a chaotic summer travel season as demand rises to levels last seen before the pandemic.

And things will only get worse, say some experts and leaders in the airline industry. They blame a number of issues that conspire to bottle up the system: lack of pilots, understaffed air traffic control centers and bad weather.

“The system no longer bends when there is a problem,” Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of the Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider. “It just fits.”

This year, airlines canceled 5% of all scheduled U.S. flights on May 27, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend — and 26% of flights arrived late. In 2019, on the same weekend, only 1% of flights were canceled that Friday, while 17% of flights were delayed, according to FlightAware data.

The situation did not improve last weekend, with the June 1st long holiday. Airlines canceled more than 35,000 flights – 6% of the total scheduled on Thursday and 5% on Friday.

Busy holiday weekends have congested the system so far this year, but flight cancellations have increased to 3% of all scheduled U.S. flights in 2022, compared to 2% in 2019, according to data from FlightAware. Delays also increase. Experts say these are the things to watch out for before heading to the airport this summer:

weather problems

Dark clouds from a storm above an airport.

Dark clouds from a storm above an airport.

Issarawat Tatong/Shutterstock.com

Harteveldt explained that the “biggest unknown” affecting airlines is the weather, especially with the upcoming hurricane season.

Airlines have been looking for solutions, such as allowing aircraft to fly at lower altitudes below storm systems, according to a CNBC report, but such a strategy would increase the amount of fuel they burn — and with jet prices soaring, this can overwhelm airlines. ‘ bottom line.

Meanwhile, American Airlines has created a program called HEAT that tracks potential disruptions so the carrier can proactively adjust its schedule.

“We can start hours earlier, in some cases five, six hours earlier than we believe the storm will be,” US chief operating officer David Seymour told CNBC. “We have to be very agile and adaptable to the scenario as it unfolds.”

air traffic control personnel

Air traffic controller.

Air traffic controller.


United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby blamed air traffic control, or ATC, for the mass disruptions in the US, saying staff shortages had caused problems at its Newark, New Jersey hub.

“We’ve had weekends recently where [ATC] is 50% of the team, and these controllers are working hard to succeed,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg on Monday. “But when you’re 50% of the team with 89 operations scheduled, and they put us perfect blue sky day with 36 operations per hour is a nightmare for customers, employees and airlines.”

To combat the problems in places like Florida, Texas and Newark, the FAA launched its “Be ATC” campaign to “hire the next generation of air traffic controllers”. The application process opens June 24 for eligible US citizens, but the window of opportunity is only open until June 27.

lack of pilots

United Airlines pilots walk through Newark Liberty International Airport

United Airlines pilots walk through Newark Liberty International Airport.

Niall Carson – PA Images/Getty Images

The lack of pilots is another factor that leads to delays and cancellations, Harteveldt told Insider. During the pandemic, airlines have lost a significant number of pilots due to early retirement. They are now struggling to hire, train and retain enough pilots.

Regional carriers have been particularly hard hit as their pilots are being hired by larger, higher-paying airlines. However, some US regional carriers, such as Envoy and Piedmont, are nearly doubling their pilot salaries as a way to keep them flying.

Possible government intervention

Pete Buttigieg

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

If operations don’t improve, Harteveldt said the federal government has a responsibility to step in to “make sure the industry is serving its customers fairly.”

On Saturday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the Associated Press that there could be consequences for airline flight disruptions, particularly after his own flight from Washington, D.C. to New York was canceled on Friday.

Buttigieg said he is asking airlines to “stress test” their schedules to ensure they can operate as advertised, the AP reported. This could mean even more cancellations if airlines determine they don’t have enough staff to cover their scheduled flights.

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