Air travel in the U.S. is normalizing Monday following several days filled with mass flight cancellations and delays, a situation that’s become all too common lately, and which airlines have blamed on bad weather and ongoing staffing shortages.
As of 2:00 p.m. ET on Monday, flight-tracking company FlightAware showed a total of 2,055 worldwide flight cancellations, only 341 of which were flying within, into or out of the U.S., representing about one percent of all the day’s scheduled flights.
That’s a pretty vast improvement over the 6,200 cancellations the world saw on Sunday, per a CNN Business report. From Thursday through Sunday, which was Father’s Day, airlines canceled over 5,000 U.S. flights, equating to roughly five percent of their combined schedules.
Compounding the Father’s Day travel demand was the fact that Juneteenth as a federal holiday is being observed Monday, resulting in a long weekend for many Americans who are dying to get away this summer.
And, airport traffic over the weekend reflected this surging demand. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 2.4 million passengers at U.S. airport security checkpoints on Friday—the busiest single day seen thus far in 2022.
That’s a 17 percent increase in traveler volume over the Friday of Father’s Day weekend last year and, although it comes in at 12 percent below 2019 levels, it’s still more than four times the number of passengers screened on the Friday before Father’s Day weekend of 2020.
Airlines and airports are struggling to accommodate the summer’s surge in demand, arguing that they were unprepared for the rebound in travel. They have yet managed to sufficiently rebuild their workforces and ramp up operations after reducing staffing levels to a bare minimum during the initial stages of the pandemic when air travel tanked.
They downsized their workforces through layoffs, furloughs, buyouts and early retirement packages; but now find that, even among those eligible to return to work in the aviation sector, many choose not to. The reasons for that range from low wages being offered for jobs that come with odd hours and challenging working conditions to the broader phenomenon being called “The Great Resignation”.
The current staffing shortages are found at all levels, from pilots and flight attendants to airport agents, mechanics and ground crews, as well as at the government level, where air traffic control is trying to bolster its workforce. Even if airports and airlines can attract enough new employees, it takes time to train and certify new recruits to perform safely and reliably in their roles, which means that air travel isn’t likely to improve much before the summer is out.
Major airlines have pared down their summer schedules in hopes of minimizing disruptions due to inadequate staffing, which also makes it more difficult for them to juggle flights when dangerous conditions arise, like the weather events that affected the U.S. last week.
With intense consumer demand for a limited number of available flights, airfares have skyrocketed. According to CNN Business, an analysis conducted by Cowen of the nation’s three biggest airlines—American, Delta and United—found that leisure fares had spiked 42 percent over last year for the week that ended June 6.
Meanwhile, Consumer Price Index, the main source by which the government measures inflation, estimated that airfare prices had increased by almost 38 percent in May over the previous year, and were nearly 22 percent higher even than in the pre-pandemic month of May 2019.
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