Since that long summer weekend also falls on Father’s Day, that means there’s a lot of travel to be done.
According to statistics from the Transportation Security Administration, the Friday before June 16 was the most popular air travel day of 2022. Airports have not been this crowded since Thanksgiving 2021.
TSA officials said they screened about 2,438,784 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide Friday, the highest checkpoint volume since Nov. 28, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That was also about 100,000 more travelers than on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.
“Welcome to the Travel Weekend of June 16th!” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein wrote on Twitter.
While June 16th became an official holiday last year, this is the first year the US stock exchange and banks have closed in honor of it.
The surge in numbers could not have come at a worse time for US airlines. A combination of inclement weather, staff shortages and infrastructure problems has meant major airlines are struggling to keep up with the surge in travel. Nearly 9,000 flights were delayed within the US on Friday and one more 1,500 flights were canceled according to data group FlightAware.
The spike in delays and cancellations comes just a day after Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg met with airline CEOs to discuss ways to improve performance and operations ahead of another expected surge in travel over the July 4 holiday.
Around Over the Memorial Day weekend, 2,700 flights were canceled. Major airlines are already canceling more flights as a precaution as the busy summer season heats up. Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 20,000 flights between June and Labor Day and is struggling to hire the 10,000 new workers it says it needs to meet demand.
“I go through the Whataburger drive-thru and pay and get my bag and there’s an application pinned to the bag,” Southwest CEO Robert Jordan joked to the Dallas Morning News last year about the difficulty in finding applicants. “It has come to this.”
Delta said it will cancel 100 daily flights in the United States and Latin America from July 1 to August 7. In an open letter to customers, Delta pilots wrote that the labor shortage has caused them to work more overtime this year than all of 2018 and 2019 combined.
“The pilot shortage in the industry is real, and most airlines just aren’t going to hit their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five years,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said during the quarterly Airline conference call in April.
Unions representing pilots at Delta, American and Southwest say airlines got into the current quandary by refusing to replace pilots who retired and took furloughs at the height of the pandemic, when air travel collapsed.
About 8,000 new commercial pilots received certificates last year, according to pilot unions, and they say there should be no shortage. The current narrative of service cuts, they claim, is being used by companies to justify cuts in training and security requirements that will increase profit margins.
Some US senators are taking note. “While some flight cancellations are inevitable, the sheer number of delays and cancellations over the past weekend are raising questions about airline decision-making,” Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey wrote in a letter to Buttigieg earlier this month.