The coincidence of two public holidays, Father’s Day and June 16, and a season of “vengeance travel” put further pressure on the already strained airline industry, as 4,200 additional US flights were delayed and 900 canceled on Sunday, bringing the total number of those disrupted since then Flights are soaring Thursday to 19,000.
Delta was hardest hit, with 6% of its total flights canceled on Sunday. Another 200 flights were canceled early Monday.
Travel conditions have been attributed to pilot and staff shortages, overcrowded aircraft and the logistical impact of bad weather. The airports with the most disruptions include Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and JFK and LaGuardia in New York.
According to TSA, Friday was the busiest day for air travel this year, with more than 2.4 million people passing through security. Saturday was slightly lower with 2.1 million travellers.
On Saturday, US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said he had urged airlines to “stress test” their summer flight schedules and hire more customer service agents to cope with the extra demand. Some airlines, including Delta, have already scaled back flights.
Buttigieg added that enforcement action could be taken against airlines that fail to meet consumer protection standards.
“It happens to a lot of people and that’s exactly why we’re paying close attention here to what can be done and how we can make sure the airlines are delivering,” he said.
After two years of pandemic-related travel cancellations and delays, the US Travel Association said 85% of Americans expect to travel this summer.
Earlier this year, Expedia CEO Peter Kern told Bloomberg that the travel industry “has been talking about pent-up demand for a long time, but up until now there have been too many constraints for people to bother too much with.”
Adding to the problems travelers face is the lack of pilots. According to ABC News, the US will lose about half of its pilots to retirement in the next 15 years. Replacing them is not easy as airlines are also struggling with a shortage of instructors.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Doha, Qatar on Sunday, Director Willie Walsh said that although most airlines are enjoying record sales, there are doubts about how long the surge will last.
High fuel prices are likely to keep driving fares higher, even if travelers are on tight budgets.
“It may be that some people can no longer afford to travel,” Walsh said. “Airlines are unable to bear these additional costs, especially given the financial damage caused by the two-year closure.”