Weather and staffing crunch Cripple Airlines

  • Chaos has become commonplace at US airports, with cancellations on major weekends being up to four times higher than in 2019.
  • US airlines delayed or canceled more than 35,000 flights over the Juneteenth and Father’s Day weekends.
  • Travel analyst Henry Hartvelt told Insider that weather and staffing issues are adding to the disruptions.

Travelers hoping for a smooth journey after nearly two years of COVID disruptions are facing a nightmare at the airport: airlines cut major travel weekends this year compared to 2019, according to an inside analysis by US Flight Flights have been canceled four times. Information

It is making for a chaotic summer travel season as demand is at the last level seen before the pandemic.

And things are only going to get worse, some experts and airline industry leaders say. They blame a range of issues conspiring to shut down the system: pilot shortages, staff shortages at air traffic control centers, and bad weather.

“When a problem occurs the system no longer bends,” Henry Hartvelt, a travel analyst and president of the Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider. “Just nap.”

This year, airlines canceled 5% of all US-scheduled flights on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend on May 27 – and 26% of flights were delayed. In the same weekend in 2019, only 1% of flights were canceled on that Friday, while 17% of flights were delayed, according to data from FlightAware.

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

Busy holiday weekends have jammed the system the most so far this year, according to data from FlightAware, but flight cancellations on all US-scheduled flights rose to 3% in 2022, compared to 2% in 2019. The delay is also increasing. Experts say these issues to consider before heading to the airport this summer:

weather crisis

Dark clouds of a thunderstorm over an airport.

Dark clouds of a thunderstorm over an airport.

Issrawat Tatong /

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

According to a report from CNBC, airlines are exploring solutions, such as allowing aircraft to fly at lower altitudes under storm systems, but that strategy will increase the amount of fuel they burn – and jet prices. With skyrocketing, that could put a strain on airlines. ‘ Ground level.

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

“We can start a few hours earlier, in some cases five, six hours before we believe the storm is going to happen,” US Chief Operating Officer David Seymour told CNBC. “We have to be very nimble and able to adapt to the landscape as it plays out.”

air traffic control staffing

Air Traffic Controller.

Air Traffic Controller.


United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has blamed air traffic control, or ATC, for the massive disruption in the US, saying staff shortages have caused issues at the Newark, New Jersey hub.

“We recently did the weekend where [ATC] 50% is on staff, and those controllers are working their tails off to be successful,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg on Monday. “But, when you’re at 50% staff with 89 operations, and they At the rate of 36 operations per hour to us a full clear blue sky day, it’s a nightmare for customers, employees and airlines.”

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

pilot shortage

United Airlines pilots walk through Newark Liberty International Airport

United Airlines pilots leave from Newark Liberty International Airport.

Niall Carson – PA Images / Getty Images

Pilot shortages are another factor driving delays and cancellations, Hartvelt told Insider. During the pandemic, airlines lost a large number of pilots due to early retirement. They are now struggling to hire, train and retain enough pilots.

Regional carriers have been particularly affected because their pilots are being scooped up by the bigger airlines who pay more. However, some US wholly-owned regional carriers, such as Envoy and Piedmont, are nearly doubling their pilot salaries to allow them to fly.

possible government intervention

Pete Buttigieg

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

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

On Saturday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the Associated Press that the airline’s flight disruptions could have consequences, especially after the cancellation of his own flight from Washington, DC to New York on Friday.

Buttigieg said he is asking airlines to “stress-test” their schedules to make sure they can operate as advertised, the AP reported. This could mean even more cancellations if airlines determine that they do not have enough staff to cover their scheduled flights.

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