Monday, June 27, 2022

It’s summer and I’m going places! But all we see in the news is dire predictions of flight delays and cancellations. There is even a website called Flight Aware which has an interactive “Misery Map” showing all the delayed and cancelled flights for a given day. Today, June 27, 2022, at 12 noon, there have been 772 flight cancellations within, into or out of the United States. Right now Los Angeles International Airport doesn’t look too bad–unless you’re headed for Seattle. What’s going on? Is this a post-Pandemic phenomenon?

Flight cancellations, June 27, 2022. Flightaware.com

Yes it is, both directly and indirectly. An increase in passengers and summer thunderstorms put pressure on a flight system that is already strained to the breaking point due to personnel shortages and unexpected absenteeism.

The first pandemic summer, 2020, brought a decrease in air travel which led to layoffs of airline personnel and air traffic controllers. Caught in this situation, employees had to move on, either by changing careers or taking early retirement. Now, in the summer of 2022, more people are traveling, and the pressure is on from all sides. Here are some of this week’s responses:

  • On Thursday, June 23, 2022, U.S. Secretary for Transportation, Pete Buttigieg held a virtual meeting with airline executives, asking them to evaluate whether they will be able to operate their planned flight schedules this summer and telling them to add more customer service workers to assist passengers caught up in the chaos of delays and cancellations.

  • On June 24, 2022, Airlines for America sent a letter to Pete Buttigieg, listing the initiatives they are taking to alleviate this summer’s air travel challenges. These measures include: cutting back 15 per cent of this summer’s planned flights, fast tracking hiring and training programs, raising pay for many positions, and upgrading airline apps so that passengers can avoid lines by rebooking flights themselves. (See the letter from A4A to Buttigieg below). But, they added, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to address the staffing issues affecting the air traffic controllers, which also impact the ability of airlines to operate effectively.
  • On June 27, 2022, Delta pilots, who have been understaffed and working overtime under a contract negotiated in 2016, have issued a statement that off-duty pilots will be picketing at a number of airports on June 30, 2022. The pilots are protesting delays in finalizing a new contract which they feel is long overdue.
  • TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein announced today on Twitter that the TSA screened 2,462,097 people nationwide yesterday, Sunday, June 26, the highest number since Feb. 11, 2020, one month before the WHO declared the pandemic (March 13, 2020). She urged people to get to the airport early. For its part, the TSA has formed a roving cadre of 1,000 screeners who can be sent wherever extra help is needed.

So it looks like the moving parts are all in motion. Last weekend was a disaster for many passengers, but maybe it was a wake-up call as well.

On the bright side, most flights are going as planned. I’m going to assume that mine will. I’ve booked two flights later this summer both from LAX, one to London Heathrow and one to Minneapolis-St. Paul. The FAA handles an average of 45,000 flights daily, so with a very rough calculation, less than 2% were cancelled so far today. I think the odds are in my favor.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Airlines cancel over 700 U.S. flights as labor crunch weighs,” Reuters, June 27, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/airlines-cancel-nearly-700-us-flights-labor-crunch-weighs-2022-06-27/

“770 more flights canceled Monday after a chaotic travel weekend,” CNN, June 27, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/06/27/business/flight-cancellations-sunday-monday/index.html

“Buttigieg: US may act against airlines on consumers’ behalf,” AP, June 18, 2022. https://apnews.com/article/pete-buttigieg-government-and-politics-airlines-transportation-c3ebc7fbe4bcfb6402e67e0d626365a0

“The TSA Just Issued This Urgent Warning to All Travelers,” BestLife, June 27, 2022. https://bestlifeonline.com/news-tsa-warning-airport-early/

Additional Sources

Flight Aware, https://uk.flightaware.com/live/cancelled/today

Misery Map, https://flightaware.com/miserymap/

Air Traffic By The Numbers, https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/by_the_numbers/

“Delta Pilots to Picket Nationwide at Delta Hubs Protesting Protracted Contract Negotiations Thursday, June 30,” Statement issued by Delta pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association.

Letter from Airlines for America to Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, June 24, 2022. https://www.airlines.org/news/letter-from-airlines-for-america-to-transportation-secretary-buttigieg/

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be written on our memories just as the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Cold War left their mark on past generations. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience, drawing on my background as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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