Flight cancellations and delays continued to plague air travelers on Friday, with more than 3,200 flights canceled as of 5 pm PT, according to Flight Aware, including 1,401 trips that originated or ended in the US.
Another 6,764 US flights were delayed, including 29% from New York’s LaGuardia airport, 43% from DC’s Reagan National and 33% from Boston Logan International. Already nearly 1,300 flights have been canceled for Saturday.
After two years of layoffs and takeovers because of the pandemic, there is an acute shortage of workers in the airline industry – particularly pilots and flight crews.
Airlines “are having trouble matching supply and demand,” said David Slotnick, senior airline business reporter for CNET’s sister site The Points Guy. “They’re guessing what the demand will mean, while still leaving slack in case of an emergency.”
Find out what is causing all the canceled flights, what airlines are doing about it, and how you can avoid a lot of trouble if your flight is cancelled.
Why were there so many delays and cancellations?
The biggest factor affecting cancellations is that airlines are incredibly understaffed. When the pandemic slowed air travel, many operators bought employee contracts and encouraged older pilots to retire early.
As a result, from December 2019 to December 2020, the number of airline workers declined by at least 114,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now carriers are clamoring for a support team but are finding it difficult to fill positions.
The shortage extends to ground personnel, baggage handlers, gate personnel and other workers, FlightAware spokeswoman Kathleen Bangs told CNET. “They’ve made a lot of acquisitions during the pandemic. It’s a period of remarkable growth and they’re just going backwards.”
It is particularly serious with pilots because it can take up to five years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to train someone to fly a commercial airliner.
“Most airlines are simply not going to be able to deliver on their capacity plans because there just aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five years,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said during an April quarterly earnings call. , NBC News reported.
Delta said it canceled 100 daily scheduled flights in the US and Latin America between July 1 and August 7. Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 20,000 summer flights.
The cost of jet fuel has soared
Aviation fuel shortages have also led to cancellations and delays. Refinery shutdowns mean that more than a million barrels a day, or about 5% of total U.S. jet fuel capacity, have been lost since the pandemic began, Bloomberg reported, with no concrete plans to increase capacity.
A shortage of supply has pushed the price of jet fuel to historic highs: according to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, jet fuel costs hit $4.82 billion in April 2022, an increase of more than 15% in relation to March and of 58% in relation to March. April 2019.
For domestic flights, the agency said, the cost per gallon increased 103% from April 2021.
How to prevent your flight from being canceled
There’s not much you can do to avoid a delay or cancellation. But there are some common sense steps that will give you a better chance of getting to your destination — or at least relaxing at home or in a hotel room rather than staying at the airport.
Download the airline app on your phone. Turn on flight notifications and start manually checking your flight status regularly, at least 24 hours in advance. Once you know your flight has been cut, find out if you’ve been transferred to another flight.
Monitor the weather at departure and arrival airports. Start checking the weather in both places a few days before your flight. Some airlines will actually rebook your flight before a major weather front at no extra cost.
If a storm is on the way, you might consider leaving a few days earlier or later or finding a different route.
Buy travel insurance
Depending on why your flight was canceled or delayed, the airline may not pay for the meals, accommodations or transportation you are required to purchase. The travel insurance payment may not cover all of your expenses, but it will definitely be more than the cost of a policy, typically. .
What to do if your flight is delayed or canceled
Time is of the essence, so be proactive when rebooking your flight.
“Most of the time, you can rebook the flight of your choice” using the airline’s app, Slotnick said. “It will save you a lot of time and hassle.”
If this is not possible, call the airline. Even if you are sent to an automated system, they may have a callback function. You can still call if you are already at the airport. Do this while queuing to speak with an agent and choose whichever option is available first.
What does the airline owe you if your flight is cancelled?
In the US, if a flight is delayed or cancelled, the airline is responsible for getting you to your destination. But that could be much later than your original flight.
If the cancellation is the airline’s fault – such as due to mechanical problems or staff shortages – the airline is obligated to provide vouchers for meals and hotels. However, make your plans quickly: airport hotels fill up quickly amid widespread delays and cancellations.
Some airlines will work to get you on another flight with another airline, Slotkin said, but not all airlines have relationships with other airlines.
The US Department of Transportation requires airlines to refund the cost of your ticket after a cancellation, schedule change, or significant delay. But the agency did not define what constitutes a “significant delay.”
“Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors – including the length of the delay, the length of the flight and your particular circumstances,” according to the DOT website.
It determines whether a refund after a significant delay is guaranteed “on a case-by-case basis”.
What are airlines doing to deal with delays and cancellations?
Hiring more employees. “All the airlines are doing big hiring initiatives,” Slotnick said. “They are racing to hire pilots and deploy them.” They are also trying to improve working conditions for existing workers: This week, Delta announced it would start paying flight attendants during boarding, rather than just when the plane door closes.
The move, a first for a major US airline, is seen as a countermeasure to an effort to unionize among workers.
Scheduling more flights. Any airlines are increasing service on popular corridors when they can. “They’re trying to find the right balance between adding flights and creating some slack in the system,” Slotnick said.
For example, United Airlines recently launched or resumed 30 flights between the US and Europe, its biggest expansion ever. Regular flights are in progress from Denver to Munich, Chicago to Zurich and New York to Bergen, Norway, as well as daily service between Boston and London.
When fully operational, United’s transatlantic route network will be more than 25% larger than it was in 2019, before air travel caused by COVID-19.
Scheduling fewer flights. Other airlines are going in the opposite direction, reducing capacity rather than risking being forced to cancel a scheduled flight. JetBlue has already reduced its May routes by nearly 10%, Conde Nast Traveler reports, and is likely to make similar cuts through the summer.
“By reducing our flight schedule for the summer and continuing to hire new crew, we hope to have more breathing room in the system to help alleviate some of the recent delays and cancellations we’ve seen in the industry,” said a JetBlue spokesperson. the exit.
Southwest Airlines, the world’s largest low-cost carrier, is cutting more than 8,000 domestic flights in June “to adjust capacity,” the company told The Business Journals.
Alaska Airlines said in a statement that it is reducing the number of flights through the end of June by about 2% “to match our current pilot capacity.”
Paying more attention to passengers. All airlines are making a concerted effort to provide passengers with as much information as possible, Slotkin said, through text updates and other notifications.
“Even a year before the pandemic, airlines were trying to be proactive in informing passengers, even 24 or 48 hours in advance, of a possible cancellation,” he said.
Are any airlines better or worse in terms of cancellations?
Without naming names, Slotnick says that, in general terms, low-cost airlines have tighter margins with less slack, so theoretically you’re more likely to face a cancellation.
But booking with a major carrier doesn’t mean you’re immune.
“Regions have parked a lot of planes because they don’t have enough people,” Bangs said. “And a lot of people who book on a major airline don’t realize they’re actually flying a smaller carrier.”
SkyWest, a smaller St. George, Utah, subcontracts to Delta, United, American and Alaska Airlines. So does Republic Airways, based in Indiana.
Sometimes bigger really is better: Last year, Delta had the best record for cancellation rates, according to The Wall Street Journal’s annual airline rankings. The Atlanta-based airline eliminated 0.6% of its scheduled departures in 2021, a third of the industry average of 1.8%.