Airlines are warning passengers to prepare for trouble

Barrett Lane was en route from Washington, DC to attend one of his college best friend’s weddings in Thousand Oaks, California, when his flight was delayed before the 4th of July weekend.

The 34-year-old transportation project manager and his husband were flying to Newark, New Jersey, for a transfer when their United Airlines flight to Los Angeles was delayed four hours due to a maintenance issue.

A few more delays later, the couple boarded the plane along with other passengers on Wednesday night and sat at the gate for three hours.

The airline eventually let them off and the flight was rescheduled for the morning. The hotels were full, so the couple slept on camp beds on the airport floor.

“I think I slept maybe about an hour total,” Lane told USA TODAY. When the flight finally took off the next morning, it was more than 14 hours late.

While Lane’s experience has been at its extreme, flight delays and cancellations have become all too common this summer as air travel struggles to return to normal following the onset of the pandemic era.

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United gave the pair grocery vouchers totaling $60 and flight credit worth $300 each, Lane said. A customer service rep also told Lane that the airline would refund the miles he used on the flight (his husband had booked separately and hadn’t called customer service yet). And while he was planning on skipping the wedding rehearsal to rest, he’ll try to enjoy the trip and the occasion.

“You can talk a little bit about your travel drama … but the focus is on the bride and groom and the wedding party,” he said. “So I’ll do my best not to be the main character this weekend.”

Demand for flights is increasing and airlines are overwhelmed trying to get people where they want to go. It’s more important than ever for travelers to be patient and ready for change, especially ahead of a bank holiday weekend that’s sure to bring even more crowds to airports.

What’s going on at the airport today?

More than 300 U.S. flights were canceled and nearly 2,900 others delayed around 2 p.m. ET on Friday, according to FlightAware, which tracks real-time flight status.

Delta Air Lines has the most cancellations of any airline in the US, with about 80 flights canceled to date, accounting for about 2% of the airline’s schedule today. This figure excludes flights operated by Delta’s regional affiliates.

The Federal Aviation Administration warns things could get tougher today as summer storms threaten to cause problems across much of the country.


Travelers wait in line at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on June 30, 2022.

Travelers wait in line at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on June 30, 2022.

What is causing the problems?

In the US, the biggest problem this summer was the lack of pilots.

Airlines, in many cases, do not have enough staff to fly all scheduled flights, and with sparse rosters, airlines need extra time to recover when something goes wrong.

Pilot shortage: Airlines are struggling with reliability this summer

“We need more pilots to get into the profession as an industry, as a country, that’s important. And until we do certain things to make that happen, that’s only going to become more acute,” Andrew Levy, CEO of ultra-low-cost carrier Avelo Airlines, told USA TODAY. “The result will be less air traffic in this country and people will pay higher air fares.”

Additionally, airlines say, the Federal Aviation Administration is experiencing staffing issues at some of its air traffic control centers, which may result in departures being delayed until air traffic controllers have the bandwidth to handle more incoming planes.

“The answer of what the next few months will be was answered three months ago in terms of staffing and timelines,” said Courtney Miller, director of Visual Approach Analytics.

To that end, airlines including American, Delta, JetBlue and United have announced summer flight schedule cuts to varying degrees.

Delta Air Lines went so far as to issue a travel waiver that allowed customers to rebook their trip on July 4 without paying change fees or fare differences. The waiver is valid until July 8.

Tips for travelers

Joshua Bush, CEO of travel agency Avenue Two Travel, said Travelers should expect delays and long lines, especially at security and check-in. However, you can take steps to minimize disruption.

► For those looking for last-minute flights or booking new flights, consider flying non-stop if possible, as Bush said it “removes the variables of where things can go wrong,” and from a big one Fly to an airport or hub where there are more opportunities for detours.

► He also recommended downloading your airline’s app to be notified of changes more quickly and avoiding carry-on baggage. Not only does it lessen the chance of losing your luggage, Bush said, but it also makes it easier for you to put yourself on standby with another flight.

► If you’re at the airport when your flight is canceled, Bush advised travelers to contact the gate agent or customer service as soon as possible, which he acknowledges is “far easier said than done” in busy airports is. You can also call by phone, and he said many airline apps have a chat feature.

“You have at least three different ways to try to solve the same problem,” he said.

► Travel insurance can also be helpful. Some insurers offer trip interruption, delay and cancellation options, and reimburse passengers whose luggage is lost so they can buy clothes or charge for a hotel or meal at the airport.

“Every policy is different, so be sure to look into it,” he said.

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Travel problems in summer: What airlines owe you when flights are canceled or delayed

While passengers struggling with delays or cancellations are likely to be frustrated, Bush also called for patience when dealing with gate staff or other representatives.

“If 100 people have yelled and yelled at them, and you’re the only person who’s nice, patient, and kind to them, they’re going to try that much harder to get you where you need to go,” he said.

If your flight is canceled and you decide not to rebook, the airline must provide a cash refund for the unused portion of your ticket.

This is true even if your fare is non-refundable. If you experience a longer delay, you may also be entitled to compensation or a refund.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: July 4th Air Travel Could Be Messy This Year: