After putting plans on hold for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some travelers are once again taking to the skies to visit loved ones or get back to exploring the world. But in a twist of cruel irony, the hordes of passengers now filling airports are also creating logistical headaches for airlines as delayed and canceled flights have become more common over the past few months. As each carrier undertakes different strategies to avoid creating misery for their customers, officials are speaking out about the ongoing issues. This includes the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which just issued an urgent warning to all travelers. Read on to see how this latest update might impact your next big trip.
Airlines have been struggling with flight delays and cancellations as travel demand surges back.
The travel industry finds itself in a unique position as it gets back to its pre-pandemic volume. Staffing shortages affecting airlines and air traffic control have coupled with bad weather, disrupting flights and leaving passengers stranded—including on busy travel dates. Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend alone, U.S. carriers canceled more than 2,500 flights, Reuters reported.
Rather than overextend themselves, airlines have begun to pare back their schedules to help avoid any cascading delays or issues due to a shortage of personnel. On May 26, Delta Air Lines announced that it would be cutting around 100 flights a day from its schedule over the busy summer travel season to help stay ahead of anticipated problems. "This will build additional resilience in our system and improve operational reliability for our customers and employees; we'll continue to proactively adjust select flights in the coming weeks," the company wrote in a press release, per The Points Guy.
And, a month after it pared back flights due to a temporary aircraft shortage, United Airlines announced on June 23 that it would be temporarily cutting 50 daily flights from its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport to help the carrier avoid logistical issues, delays, and cancellations, as first reported by Reuters. But instead of a pilot shortage, the airline cited ongoing construction and an overly packed schedule during peak hours as "creating a crisis" at the airport, CNN reports. Now, officials are cautioning that there could be more problems ahead.
A TSA spokesperson just issued an important warning to all travelers.
In a June 25 tweet, TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein explained that airports were once again filling up to pre-pandemic levels.
"TSA officers screened 2,454,781 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Friday, June 24. It was the highest checkpoint volume since Feb. 11, 2020, when 2,507,588 people were screened," she wrote.
She then warned any travelers taking a flight soon, saying: "Get to the airport early, it's busy!"
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The warning comes after another weekend that saw scores of flights canceled.
Farbstein's warning comes immediately after 730 flights were canceled across the U.S. on the previous Sunday evening, CNN reports. The snarls saw Delta ground 224 departures, with many affected at the airline's global hub at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Meanwhile, United Airlines canceled 71 flights, and American Airlines scuttled 66 on the same day.
"Delta teams continue to safely manage through compounding factors affecting our operation this weekend, including higher-than-planned unscheduled absences in some of our work groups, weather, and air traffic control constraints," a Delta spokesperson told CNN. "Canceling a flight is always our last resort, and we sincerely apologize to our customers for any disruption to their travel plans."
Government officials are putting pressure on airlines to solve the scheduling problems.
The airline industry's woes have not gone unnoticed by government officials, either. On June 16, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called a virtual meeting with the CEOs of major U.S. carriers about their ongoing logistical issues—only to have a flight of his own canceled the following day.
"I received a lot of assurances about the steps that they're taking, and I know that this is being taken very seriously when it comes to all of the measures airlines can take," Buttigieg told NPR. "On the other hand, I'm in a car right now instead of on a plane, because we weren't able to get a flight as planned, so these disruptions continue to be a concern."
On June 24, airline industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A) replied to Buttigieg with an open letter laying out a plan for carriers as they contend with ongoing issues, including a proposed increase in staffing for major air traffic control centers, USA Today reports. "All sectors of the economy and the federal government are facing post-pandemic challenges, making it more important that we work closely to address these challenges and ensure that our nation's aviation system remains safe and reliable for both passengers and cargo," Nicholas Calio, A4A President and CEO, wrote.
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