Air travelers face delays and cancellations over July 4 weekend

Air passengers across the United States faced major flight cancellations and delays over the weekend, caused by a boom in travel demand coupled with widespread staff shortages.

From Friday to Sunday, airlines that fly within, to or from the United States canceled more than 1,400 flights, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking website, stalling and angering some passengers heading for a long-awaited summer vacation. Additionally, more than 14,000 flights were delayed this holiday weekend, according to data from the site.

Some airlines appeared to be struggling to handle passenger volumes that were approaching or, in some cases, even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. On Friday, the Transportation Safety Administration screened more passengers — 2.49 million people — than any other day this year. This exceeded the 2.18 travelers screened on July 1, 2019, before the pandemic.

The experience has been frustrating for some passengers on US carriers. On Saturday, 1,048 — or 29% — of Southwest Airlines flights were delayed, as were 28% of American Airlines flights, according to FlightAware. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines had similar issues, with 21% and 19% of their flights also delayed. Sunday, in the middle of the holiday weekend, travelers seemed to have a respite from the worst of problems.

“Obviously, if it’s your flight that’s delayed or canceled, it’s a disaster,” said Robert W. Mann Jr., a former airline executive who now runs airline consultancy RW. Mann & Company.

In a typical month, Mann noted, about 20% of flights are delayed or canceled. But this holiday weekend, he said, it was about 30% — a 50% increase. “It’s a little worse than usual,” he said.

Adding to pressure on airlines over the weekend, a glitch in American Airlines’ pilot scheduling system allowed pilots to drop thousands of flight assignments for July. The airline said on Saturday it does not anticipate any “operational impact” due to the glitch.

But the Allied Pilots Association, the union for American Airlines pilots, said the airline had unilaterally reinstated abandoned flights without the pilots’ agreement. The union said it was pressuring the airline to pay an “inconvenience bonus” to pilots affected by problems with the scheduling system.

In a nod to growing passenger frustrations this summer, Ed Bastian, the chief executive of Delta Air Lines, issued an apology last week.

“I know many of you may have experienced disruptions, sometimes significant, to your travels as we rebuild our operations from the depths of 2020 while responding to record high demand,” Bastian wrote. in a post on LinkedIn. He added: “Although the majority of our flights continue to operate on time, this level of disruption and uncertainty is unacceptable.”

In an email, Morgan Durrant, a spokesperson for Delta, said the airline was managing “aggravating factors” of bad weather and air traffic control delays, which affect flight crew availability. The airline was “working around the clock to make Delta’s operations as resilient as possible to minimize the ripple effect of disruptions,” Durrant said. “Even so, some operational challenges are expected this holiday weekend.”

As the holiday weekend progressed, however, the string of flight issues began to ease. As of Sunday night, Delta had only canceled 1% of its flights and only 15% of Southwest Airlines flights were delayed, according to FlightAware.

Southwest said Sunday it was providing “a safe and reliable experience on our network today with currently less than 10 total cancellations” for the day.

American Airlines and United Airlines did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

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