Passengers are advised to exercise patience as airlines grapple with staff shortages and inclement weather
You don’t need to tell Christi Ginn that summer will be tough for air travel.
She has already experienced it.
The Dublin resident’s flight last week from Phoenix to Oakland that should have taken 90 minutes has become a four-hour puzzle. She, her daughter and other passengers – said their flight was on time – boarded a plane from the southwest which then sat on the tarmac in sweltering 115-degree heat.
Fortunately, she said, a pilot on leave taking the flight turned on the air conditioning so passengers could cool off while awaiting the arrival of their pilots, who had yet to land in Arizona.
“No explanation, no apologies, nothing,” she said, adding that others had gotten worse and missed connecting flights to a Hawaii vacation. “I sent a complaint to Southwest and got a response the next day that more or less said, sorry, things are happening.”
Travel experts say things are going to be fine, as airlines and airports struggle to meet pent-up demand for vacations now that more than half of all Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Thousands of flights this month have been canceled and thousands more delayed for a myriad of reasons: American Airlines has blamed the “unprecedented” weather conditions at its major hubs. Southwest Airlines was plagued with computer glitches for several days. And for most carriers, there simply aren’t enough employees after last year’s pandemic buyouts, retirements and other retirements.
“Airlines are understaffed, not just for pilots but for agents, which is why there are long backups to even call reservations,” said travel expert John DiScala, aka JohnnyJet.com, based in Los Angeles.
Cockpit positions, however, are the most crucial to fill. When U.S. pilots went on leave last year, pilot and union spokesperson Dennis Tajer of the Allied Pilots Association warned that it could take more than a year for the carrier to restart due to the demands. rigorous industry training.
“It takes months and months… to get these pilots back on their feet and flying,” Tajer told CNBC. “The public,” on the other hand, “is ready to fly when it is safe to fly.”
American is “adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flights” – or canceling – about 1,000 flights through mid-July to “minimize surprises at the airport,” spokesman Derek Walls said. “We have made these changes with the goal of impacting as few customers as possible by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options to change reservations on other flights.”
On social media, U.S. customers reacted angrily to the news, pointing out that the airline said it accepted $ 5.8 billion in COVID payroll relief last year while laying off thousands of workers. employees.
Southwest, which did not implement involuntary time off last year (and never in its 50-year history, a spokesperson said), faces persistent criticism from customers regarding his lack of communication during the computer crisis.
Los Angeles passenger Shelley Carr said airline officials told her the issues she had encountered were weather related.
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“It was easier for me to travel to Tanzania” – a 20 hour world trip that she took a few years ago – “than for me to travel from Burbank to New York” via the southwest, a she declared. Especially since she never reached her intended destination, New York’s La Guardia.
“5 airports, 8 flight delays, 4 gate changes and 2 days. But I’m finally here! she posted on Facebook on June 11 from Hartford, Connecticut.
Now, with these IT issues resolved, “Southwest’s summer fleet and staffing plans are prepared” for travel requests, a representative said. Staff encouraged inconvenienced travelers to contact customer relations so that any “individual concerns” can be addressed.
Delta Air Lines, which downsized last year through buyouts and early retirements, on Tuesday announced plans to hire thousands of new and contract employees and even contact former workers to fill short-term jobs, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
For passengers, new hires cannot arrive early enough. According to a survey by Cirium, a flight data provider, 78% of U.S. leisure travelers are ready to return to the skies this summer. And soon after, business travel is expected to start to rebound, with 67% of those traveling on business saying they think their employers will give them the green light in the coming months.
“Every summer you have to be patient,” Johnny Jet said. “But this time you have to bring an extra bag.”