A multi-day disruption of flights to and from the New York metropolitan area is raising concerns about how prepared airlines are for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, a weekend that is forecast to see record passenger numbers. aerial.
It is estimated that more than 4 million Americans will fly this holiday period, according to the AAA, the car owners group, up about 11 percent from last year and about 6 percent from the record set in 2019. The busiest day for the holidays, with 52,564 flights, will be Thursday, he Federal Aviation Administration saying.
But as travelers prepared for a busy holiday weekend, airlines sought to blame the FAA, which runs the country’s air traffic control, for at least some of the thousands of canceled flights and tens of thousands of delayed flights. across the country this week.
This is what travelers need to know.
What is the situation in the Northeast airports?
Travel at New York airports, particularly Newark, has been disrupted since the weekend, with many travelers reporting long flight delays and difficulties rebooking canceled flights. In some cases, passengers reported sleeping at airports and waiting in line or on the phone for hours to contact customer service agents.
a passenger said on Twitter that his connecting flight, operated by United Airlines and leaving Newark airport over the weekend, had been delayed about 15 hours after he was “unboarded” from the plane after midnight. His family slept on cots in the terminal.
Thunderstorms along the East Coast have piled up in “the perfect place” to isolate the busy New York and Florida markets, Chris Citrola, an FAA spokesman, he said in a video posted online.
“What happens is a domino effect of the problems,” he said. “We have crews that can’t get where they need to go, we can’t get crews where they need to go, and that starts to become a lot of problems at the airport itself.”
Which airlines are the most affected? Who to blame?
Of the roughly 4,500 canceled flights nationwide on Monday and Tuesday, more than 30 percent were operated by United, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking firm. Other airlines reporting substantial cancellations included Delta Air Lines subsidiary JetBlue Airways, Endeavor Air and Republic Airways, which flies for Delta, United and American Airlines.
As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, United, which maintains a hub at Newark Liberty International Airport, had canceled about 15 percent of the domestic flights it had planned for the day, according to FlightAware. Endeavor canceled about 12 percent of its flights, while JetBlue canceled about 9 percent and Republic canceled about 8 percent.
United and JetBlue blamed the problems on the weather, but also on the FAA
In a statement on Wednesday, United said a shortage of air traffic personnel over the weekend contributed to “a difficult operating environment.” This blame echoes what its CEO, Scott Kirby, told staff in a memo earlier this week, saying that “the FAA frankly failed us this weekend.” JetBlue also said in a statement that it had struggled to keep up with its flight schedule after air traffic control limited travel by all airlines to and from New York airports.
What is really going on with FAA personnel?
The FAA said it had no air traffic control personnel issues along the East Coast on Monday or Tuesday. In a statement, the agency said that it will “always collaborate with anyone who is seriously willing to join us in solving a problem.”
However, air traffic control has long been shorthanded, and controllers at many facilities often work six days a week to fill those shortfalls.
in a report released last weekThe Department of Transportation found that most of the 26 critical air traffic control facilities it identified were 15 percent or more understaffed, as of March 2022. One such facility, New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, which oversees some of the country’s most complex facilities and challenging airspace, employed only 54 percent of its target number of controllers.
The report indicated that the problem has been brewing for years, something United’s Mr Kirby also pointed out on Monday.
“It is not the fault of the current FAA leadership that they are in this position seriously understaffed; it has been building up for a long time before they were in charge,” he said in his memo to staff.
The FAA has also had personnel problems at the top. Its last permanent administrator resigned in March 2022 and the agency is currently headed by its second temporary administrator.
What recourse do passengers with delayed or canceled flights have?
Most US airlines offer compensation to passengers when a flight delay or cancellation is caused by a factor within the airline’s control, such as maintenance issues or an understaffed flight crew. Bad weather and FAA personnel generally do not qualify.
But in cases where the airline is at fault, major carriers will rebook passengers on the same airline at no additional cost and will provide meals or meal vouchers when passengers have to wait three hours or more.
To navigate potential disruptions, travelers should download and monitor airline apps, consider purchasing travel insurance, which typically covers flight delays, and change flights to leave in the morning if possible.
In case of delays or mass cancellations, customer service agents may have long wait times. Instead, travelers can call an airline’s overseas hotline, which will typically handle a fraction of callers, said Scott Keyes, founder of going.coma travel deals website.
Could this holiday weekend repeat last summer?
“It’s going to be a very eventful weekend with the potential for disruption,” said Mike Arnot, a spokesman for aviation research firm Cirium, noting that The searing heat in the south and smoky skies from the Canadian wildfires could also cause delays.
But Going.com’s Mr Keyes said he was optimistic this summer would be better than last year, calling it a “debacle”.
He is not the only one who uses that term. From June to August last year, more than 22 percent of all flights were delayed and around 2 percent of flights were cancelled. BTS Data Show.
To help avoid a repeat and ease the pressure on air traffic control, the FAA has relaxed rules at some airports to encourage airlines to operate fewer flights with larger planes. It also opened 169 new routes to reduce congestion. Airlines hired more staff, opted to use larger planes and began to watch more closely for early signs of trouble.
These steps may be working. Of the more than 100,000 flights scheduled for Memorial Day weekend this year, less than 1 percent were cancelled, according to FlightAware.