summer travel

Flight Cancellations, Delays a Reminder the Busy Summer Travel Season is Upon us

United Airlines CEO says there simply aren't enough pilots, at least for the next five-plus years

NBCUniversal, Inc.

This past Juneteenth and Father's Day weekend has been a busy one at airports across the country.

In fact, Friday was the most popular travel day of 2022, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Airports haven't been this crowded since Thanksgiving.

More than 2.4 million people traveled through TSA checkpoints on Friday, according to the agency. The same day, airlines had canceled more than 1,100 flights by early afternoon, following more than 1,700 cancellations on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

More than 6,300 flights were delayed within, into, or leaving the U.S. on Saturday alone, and 859 flights were canceled, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

Much of the impact was felt by those flying to or from the East Coast.

On Sunday, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport had the most delays and cancellations.

More cancellations and delays continued into the Juneteenth federal holiday on Monday, with Delta and American Airlines leading the way with a few hundred delays. Travelers were stranded in airports like DFW International.

“It was just completely packed. I don't think there were a lot of people in good moods. Traveling alone is stressful. But throw in a cancellation, and it's a bad recipe,” said Logan Stammen, whose flight was canceled over the weekend.

Airlines blame it on a combination of rough weather, staffing shortages and other issues.

But pilots said the ongoing pilot shortage crisis might be the biggest challenge to air travel right now.

“All frontline employees at Southwest are sort of feeling the pinch right now,” said Casey Murray, president of the SWA Pilots Association. “And pilots, much more so than others, due to due to fatigue and many issues that they're fighting through on a daily basis, besides just flying the airplane.”

Southwest Airlines pilots are planning an informational picket Tuesday morning at Dallas Love Field over pilot fatigue, staffing, and other issues. The SWA Pilots Association is calling it "the largest display of unity in SWA's history".

Every major airline has already been bracing for the busy summer season.

In April, Southwest preemptively cut nearly 20,000 flights between June and Labor Day.

Delta said it is canceling 100 daily departures from destinations in the U.S. and Latin America, affecting travel from July 1 to August 7. The airline company published an open letter to customers on Thursday acknowledging both the labor shortage and customers’ frustrations with canceled and delayed flights.            

Others like JetBlue, Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines are following suit with their flight schedules.

The United Airlines CEO said in a recent earnings call that the “pilot shortage is real” and that “most airlines are not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren't enough pilots, at least for the next five-plus years.”

Meantime, these travel headaches come just days after transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg met virtually with airline CEOs to talk about improving operations ahead of another surge expected over the July 4th holiday.

In an interview on Saturday with the Associated Press, Buttigieg said his own flight from Washington to New York had been canceled on Friday, which forced him to drive instead.

According to CNBC, Buttigieg added that he is pushing airline leaders to ensure they could fulfill their planned summer flights with the staff they have. He added that the Department of Transportation could take enforcement actions against airlines but will wait to see how the rest of the summer season unfolds first. 

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