Weather and Staffing Shortages Cripple Airlines

  • Chaos at US airports has become the norm, with 2019.
  • US airlines delayed or canceled more than 35,000 flights over the Juneteenth and Father’s Day weekend.
  • Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt told Insider that weather and staffing issues are driving the injuries.

Airlines have been canceled at the airport: data.

The pandemic.

And things are only going to get worse, some experts and airline industry leaders say. They blame a series of issues and bottlenecks on air traffic control centers, and bad weather.

“The system doesn’t bend anymore when there’s a problem,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group told Insider. “It just snaps.”

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

The situation did not improve over the past weekend, with the Juneteenth holiday. Airlines canceled more than 35,000 flights – 6% of the total scheduled on Thursday and 5% on Friday.

Busy holiday weekends have jammed up the system so far this year, but flight cancellations have risen to 3% of all US-scheduled flights in 2022 compared to 2% in 2019, according to FlightAware data. Delays are on the rise, too. Experts say these are the issues to watch before you head to the airport this summer:

Weather woes

Dark clouds of a thunderstorm above the airport.

Dark clouds of a thunderstorm above the airport.

Issarawat Tattong /

Harteveldt explained the “greatest unknown” affecting airlines and the weather, especially with the upcoming hurricane season.

Airlines have been searching for solutions, such as allowing airlines to fly at lower altitudes below storm systems, according to a CNBC report, but that can increase the amount of fuel they burn – and with jet prices skyrocketing, that can put stress on airlines ‘bottom line.

Meanwhile, American Airlines has created a program called HEAT that can potentially damage the carrier by adjusting its schedule.

“We can start hours in advance, in some cases five, six hours in advance of what we believe the storm is going to be,” American chief operating officer David Seymour told CNBC. “We’ve got to be able to be very nimble and adaptive to the scenario as it plays out.”

Air traffic control staffing

Air traffic controller.

Air traffic controller.

Burben / Shutterstock

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

“We’ve had weekends recently where [ATC] it is at 50% staffing, and those controllers are working their tails off to be successful, “he said in an interview with Bloomberg on Monday.” a perfect clear blue sky day at 36 operations per hour, it’s a nightmare for customers, for employees, and the airlines. “

To combat the issues in places like 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 to eligible US citizens, but the window of opportunity is only open through June 27.

Shortage pilot

United Airlines pilots walk through Newark Liberty International Airport

United Airlines pilots walk through Newark Liberty International Airport.

Neil Carson – PA Images / Getty Images

The pilot shortage is another factor driving delays and cancellations, Harteveldt told Insider. During the pandemic, airlines lost a significant number of pilots due to early retirement. They’re now struggling to hire, train, and retain enough pilots.

Regional carriers have been particularly affected by their pilots that pay more. However, some American wholly-owned regional carriers, like Envoy and Piedmont, are not doubling their pilot salaries as a way to keep them flying.

Possible government intervention

Pete Buttigieg

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Photo by Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

If operations don’t get any better, 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 collision, especially after his own flight from Washington, DC to New York was canceled on Friday.

Buttigieg said he’s asking airlines to “stress-test” their schedules to make sure they can operate as advertised, the AP reported. Airlines decide that they do not have enough staff to cover their scheduled flights.

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