Airline delays hint at tough summer for travelers | News, Sports, Jobs
This summer is already shaping up to be difficult for air travelers.
Southwest Airlines customers have faced thousands of delays and hundreds of canceled flights over the past three weeks due to IT issues, staff shortages and poor weather conditions.
American Airlines is also grappling with an increase in delays, and it has cut its schedule until mid-July at least in part because it does not have enough pilots, according to the pilots’ union.
At the same time, the number of Americans boarding planes is at its highest pandemic level. Just under 2.2 million travelers were screened at US airports on Friday, the highest number since early March 2020.
Travelers post photos of long lines at the airport and describe painful flights.
“It was ridiculously crowded” Tracey Milligan opened up about the airports after traveling from her New Jersey home to Miami and back last week.
Milligan and her 6-year-old daughter suffered delays of several hours on both legs of the trip. Before the flight to Florida, she said, JetBlue agents first told passengers there was a deviation from the weight of the plane, and then they were missing three crew members because that the airline was understaffed, then there was a weather delay.
“I really wanted to start screaming and cursing everyone, but that won’t get you anywhere, and security will come and get you off the plane.” she said.
At least the passengers on the Milligan flights kept their cool. Airlines have seen an increase in unruly passengers, and some experts predict it will get worse this summer as planes become even more congested.
There were more than a dozen days in June and July when more than 2 million travelers passed through U.S. airports, according to figures from the Transportation Security Administration. Airlines say domestic leisure travel has returned to 2019 levels, although the lack of business travelers means that overall, passenger numbers over the past week are still down slightly by report on the same days in 2019.
For the weekend of July 4, U.S. airlines scheduled nearly twice as many flights between Thursday and Monday as they did on the same days last year, according to data from aviation researcher Cirium.
The weekend highlights the rapid turnaround in an industry that struggled for survival last year. The recovery has been faster than expected, including, apparently, the airlines themselves.
Since the start of the pandemic, U.S. airlines have received $ 54 billion in federal aid to help cover payroll expenses. In return, they were prohibited from putting workers on leave or dismissing them. However, they were allowed to persuade tens of thousands of employees to take buyouts, early retirements or time off.
Now some are finding that they don’t have enough people in key roles, including pilots.
As Southwest officials braced for crowded flights over the bank holiday weekend, they have offered to double the salaries of flight attendants and other employees who agree to do extra work until Wednesday.
“The shortage of staff is widespread. As for the pilots, there is a backlog of training ”, said Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. “Southwest entered the summer with very little headroom. “
Murray said many pilots returning from leave are still receiving training required by the federal government to refresh their skills and are not yet eligible to fly. When storms cause long delays, pilots can reach their FAA limit on the number of hours they are allowed to work, and there aren’t enough backups to respond, he said. On top of that, he said, Southwest pushed for a “aggressive” summer schedule to take advantage of the growing demand for travel.
Since June 14, Southwest has averaged more than 1,300 daily flight delays, or 40% of its schedule, according to figures from the tracking service Flightaware.com.
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said most of the delays were due to weather conditions and with fewer flights than before the pandemic, it is more difficult for the Southwest to recover from long thunderstorms.
At American Airlines, unions say labor shortages are contributing to delays and cleaning up to 80 flights a day from the schedule through mid-July. Echoing Southwest, the American Pilots Union said management had not acted quickly enough to retrain 1,600 pilots who were temporarily laid off and then rehired last year or replace the 1,000 who took over. their retirement.
Delta canceled dozens of flights over Thanksgiving last year and again around Easter this year due to personnel issues.
The airlines that pushed people to quit a year ago are now starting to hire again, which could help alleviate staffing shortages. Delta, for example, plans to hire more than 1,000 pilots by next summer, starting with about 75 by August.
Passengers whose flights are not canceled or delayed are still at risk of being on board with inconvenient airline mates. Airlines have reported more than 3,200 incidents of unruly passengers since January 1. Most involve people refusing to wear masks, as required by the federal government. Some of these passengers face heavy fines.
Andrew Thomas, a frequent traveler who teaches international business at Akron University and has been tracking air rage for over 20 years, believes conditions are ripe for even more aircraft incidents this summer , because travelers are more stressed than ever.
“The problem was there before COVID, and now you put more people in the sky and you exacerbate that with the masks,” Thomas said. “The service levels are atrocious. The planes are packed, they don’t feed you, it’s hard to find food in an airport. The only thing that is easy to get is alcohol, which is not a good thing.
David Koenig can be contacted at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press.