At least 800 flights in the United States were canceled as of Monday afternoon, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. This follows another chaotic travel weekend with more than 1,500 domestic flights canceled on Saturday and Sunday.
Delta alone canceled at least 224 flights, or 7% of its operations, Monday, while United canceled 128 flights and American Airlines (AAL) canceled 67. CNN has reached out to the three airlines for comment on the flight cancellations.
“Delta teams continue to come safely through compounding factors affecting our operations this weekend, including more than planned unplanned absences in some of our work groups, weather and air traffic control restrictions,” a Delta Air Lines spokesman said Sunday. “Flight cancellation is always our last resort and we sincerely apologize to our customers for any disruption to their travel plans.”
It’s going to be a summer of travel hell, experts warn. Despite receiving $54 billion in federal support during the height of Covid to avoid involuntary layoffs, airlines now have fewer employees than they did before the pandemic – particularly pilots – after offering takeovers and early retirement packages to airlines to cut staff and cash in save up. In bad weather, understaffed air traffic control centers or sick staff, operations can quickly collapse.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and Newark Liberty International in the New York City area were hardest hit by Monday’s cancellations, with Newark alone accounting for more than 100 canceled flights.
United – which canceled 56 flights on Saturday and 70 on Sunday – announced last Thursday that it would cut 12% of its daily domestic flights from its busy Newark hub. The cuts begin in July and amount to about 50 daily flights.
According to FlightAware, there were 634 U.S. flight cancellations on Saturday and 868 on Sunday.
“More than at any time in our history, the various factors currently impacting our operations – weather and air traffic control, vendor staffing, increased Covid case rates contributing to more than planned unplanned absences in some workgroups – are leading to operations , which does not consistently meet the standards that Delta has set for the industry over the past several years,” said Allison Ausband, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, in an online post.
But critics say airlines should have anticipated these problems ahead of the summer travel season.
“If you stress test the airline’s operating model, you see the same results,” Captain Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, the pilots’ union at American Airlines, said earlier this month.
For flights that are already fully booked, “the cancellation of a flight causes not only a cascading effect, but a tidal wave of problems. It’s deja vu again,” Tajer added, referring to the chaotic holiday travel season late last year.