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Airline delays and cancellations are bad. Ahead of the holiday weekend, they’re getting worse

by Michael Nguyen
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airline delays

Airline delays and cancellations are worsening, raising concerns ahead of the upcoming holiday weekend. U.S. travelers are currently experiencing delays at airports, signaling a challenging period for airlines struggling to cope with the growing number of passengers.

As of early morning, FlightAware reported nearly 1,300 delayed flights and close to 700 cancellations across the United States. The East Coast is particularly affected, with disruptions expected to spread to the West.

The situation is exacerbated by thunderstorms that hit the Northeast on Tuesday. Flights bound for LaGuardia Airport in New York and Reagan Washington National and Baltimore-Washington airports were delayed by the Federal Aviation Administration due to the inclement weather.

Yesterday, the East Coast witnessed approximately 6,500 delayed flights and 1,900 cancellations. FlightAware data shows that United Airlines, operating a major hub in Newark, New Jersey, canceled about 500 flights, amounting to 18% of its schedule. JetBlue also had to cancel 16% of its flights.

This surge in flight disruptions comes amidst the steady recovery of travel since the pandemic’s low point. On Tuesday, approximately 2.4 million people flew, marking an 11% increase compared to the same day last year, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Travel is anticipated to reach its peak on Thursday, with over 52,500 flights expected, making it the busiest travel day of the holiday period.

Frustrated travelers whose plans were disrupted expressed their grievances on social media. Some vowed never to fly with the responsible airlines again, citing incidents such as leaving necessary medical supplies in checked bags or witnessing fellow passengers struggling to locate unaccompanied minors or enduring long lines and overnight stays at airports.

“Margo,” an affected traveler, expressed disappointment with the lack of customer service, stating that stranded passengers were left at the mercy of unresponsive airlines.

In an attempt to reach their destination, the Osbornes managed to rent a car and embarked on a 10-hour overnight drive to Charlotte, North Carolina, in order to catch an American Airlines flight to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Their luggage finally arrived in New Orleans on Tuesday.

If a significant number of passengers are stranded or face delays during the holiday weekend, it is expected that both federal officials and the airlines will shift blame onto each other for the chaotic situation.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department oversees the FAA, has been critical of airlines for over a year, accusing them of failing to meet reasonable customer service standards and suggesting that they are overbooking flights beyond their capacity.

The airlines, in turn, have pushed back against the criticism. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby attributed the recent major disruptions at the Newark hub to a shortage of federal air traffic controllers. Kirby claimed that FAA staffing issues and traffic management problems affected over 150,000 United customers during the past weekend.

United Airlines may also be contributing to its own challenges. The Association of Flight Attendants, representing the airline’s cabin crews, reported wait times of over three hours for workers contacting a crew scheduling center that had limited resources. The union instructed flight attendants near the end of their shifts to inform supervisors and find accommodation.

The FAA has acknowledged its understaffing at critical facilities, including one in the New York City region. Although the agency is currently training approximately 3,000 new air traffic controllers, their readiness will take time. A recent report from the Transportation Department’s inspector general highlighted the FAA’s limited efforts to adequately staff crucial air traffic control centers and the lack of a comprehensive plan to address the issue.


Contributions by Wyatte Grantham-Philips in Washington, D.C., and reporting by Koenig in Dallas.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about airline delays

Q: Why are airline delays and cancellations getting worse ahead of the holiday weekend?

A: Airline delays and cancellations are worsening due to several factors. The surge in the number of passengers traveling during the holiday weekend is putting strain on airlines that are struggling to handle the increased volume. Additionally, thunderstorms in the Northeast have further contributed to disruptions. FAA staffing issues and the lack of adequate air traffic control center staffing have also played a role in the worsening situation.

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