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Flying from South Florida airports this summer? Expect crowds, flight delays, cancellations

·5 min read
Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com

South Florida’s summer travel season, with record-breaking flight and passenger traffic at the two major airports, has been colliding with unpredictable weather and staffing shortages plaguing the airlines.

For many people who have flown from Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airports in May and June, that’s meant long security lines, flight delays and cancellations.

After two years when many people stayed home instead of taking summer trips in the coronavirus pandemic, many area residents have planned vacations that include air travel. On the other hand, plenty of visitors have been converging on South Florida for a family trip or to visit relatives here. The pent-up demand for air travel certainly will test the region’s two biggest airports to keep running smoothly the remainder of the summer with minimal flight delays and cancellations.

At Miami airport, between June 1 and 27 there have been 12,679 outbound flights, and 36% of them were late or canceled. That’s more than in May, when a quarter of the 15,790 scheduled flights at the airport didn’t take off on time or were canceled.

What’s more, there’s been a small reduction in overall jet traffic so far in June at the airport — 977 daily flights on average, down from 1,057 in May.

Greg Chin, spokesman for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department that oversees airport operations, blamed recent flight delays and cancellations on: staffing issues at individual airlines; unpredictable lightning storms; air traffic control challenges; and FAA rules requiring a certain amount of space between planes taking off and landing at the airport.

At Fort Lauderdale airport, officials said they’re contending with the same staffing shortages as many other businesses regionally and nationally, but are working hard to hire and train people to meet travel demand. An airport job fair is planned for August, after one in September 2021 yielded 800 new employees for the airport’s businesses.

In May, flight attendants who work for Spirit Airlines, the largest carrier at Fort Lauderdale airport, held a demonstration to protest poor working conditions, including being overworked, union leaders said. For example, they said Spirit had at least four mass cancellation events since August 2021 at various airports and claimed many flight attendants and passengers were left stranded.

Teri Davison, president of Spirit Airlines union Local Council 78, told the Miami Herald in May that flight attendants lacking rest can’t properly take care of their airplane passengers.

The timing of the union’s aggravation with Spirit coincides with the Miramar-based airline trying to fend off an unsolicited $3.6 billion takeover bid from JetBlue Airways, while it’s trying to convinced shareholders to support a planned merger with rival low-cost competitor Frontier Airlines. Spirit shareholders will vote Thursday whether or not to approve the merger.

Despite the operational hurdles related to the airlines, Miami airport has continued to break its overall passenger traffic records since pandemic restrictions eased last year, consistently outpacing 2019 pre-pandemic traffic levels.

Fourth of July weekend should be no exception. The airport is expecting 725,000 passengers to pass through security between June 30 and July 4, to make it the busiest Independence Day weekend ever.

American Airlines, the largest carrier at Miami airport and Miami-Dade’s third-largest employer, is operating one of its busiest summer flight schedules here, with 344 daily flights to 137 destinations, increasing their seat capacity by 7.2% compared to 2019.

In a recent earnings call with airline industry analysts, American’s CEO Robert Isom defended the airline on staffing problems and pilot shortages around the country.

“Just like the rest of the world, we’re all getting back up to speed,” Isom said. “We’ve already made sure that we have appropriate confidence levels in what we can do. So no need for any type of concern over the summer.”

Trying to keep up with travel demand as the pandemic wanes, American Airlines has hired 600 pilots toward a goal of hiring 2,000 of them this year. If attained, the airline’s executives said that would be double the most pilots the airline has ever hired in one year.

Fewer delays and cancellations over the summer and fall would help South Florida’s airports improve on their weak performance in 2021. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport was the third-worst airport for on-time flight performance in the U.S. last year. Miami International Airport was the sixth-worst performing airport on the same measure, according to data from AirHelp, an airline claims management company.

Tips for dealing with South Florida airport lines, flight delays

Arrive early. Miami airport officials recommend arriving three hours before a domestic flight and 3.5 hours before an international flight. Fort Lauderdale airport officials recommend arriving two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.

Apply for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry for faster passage through airport security lines.

Parking lots fill up fast at both airports, so it’s wise to get a ride or take public transit to the airports.

Check which security lines are fastest at Miami airport on its queue analyzer, which updates which lines are the shortest. Just make sure that security checkpoint leads you to your departure gate.

If you’re traveling internationally, you can fill out your customs and border patrol forms and submit your passport information ahead of time through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection mobile passport on your phone.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story misstated recent flight cancellations and delays at Miami International Airport. Between June 1 and 27, there have been 12,679 outbound flights, and 36% of them were late or canceled. In May, a quarter of 15,790 scheduled flights didn’t take off on time or were canceled.