Flights canceled over Memorial Day weekend offer travelers a taste of summer

Travelers line up at a security checkpoint in the main terminal at Denver International Airport on Thursday.

David Zalubowski/AP

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David Zalubowski/AP

Travelers line up at a security checkpoint in the main terminal at Denver International Airport on Thursday.

David Zalubowski/AP

The unofficial start of summer over Memorial Day weekend offers a disturbing glimpse of what awaits travelers during the peak holiday season.

US airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights from Thursday to Monday, or about 2% of their schedules, according to tracking service FlightAware.

Delta Air Lines, generally among the top performers, had the worst record among major carriers with more than 800 flights canceled in a five-day period.

“It was a chance for the airlines to show that the delays of last summer were not going to happen again this summer, and yet it didn’t have to be,” said Helane Becker, an analyst for banking firm Cowen. . She blamed the disruptions on bad weather, air traffic control delays, airline crew members calling in sick and long security lines at some airports.

“We are expecting a busy summer and are concerned about the industry’s ability to handle demand,” Becker said.

When asked to comment on its weekend issues on Tuesday, Delta pointed to a statement it released last week, when it said it faced challenges including rising cases. of COVID-19 among workers.

Delta flew 13% more in May than a year ago, but announced last week that it would cut its schedules for July and August by up to 3% to make the remaining flights more reliable. The pilots’ union said it had warned the airline for months about crew shortages.

“We understand our customers’ frustration, especially on weekends,” said Evan Baach, Boeing 767 captain at Delta and head of the Air Line Pilots Association. “Delta simply hasn’t properly staffed the airline with pilots for the number of flights it wants to fly.”

The good news is that flight cancellations fell sharply on Tuesday. FlightAware only reported about 80 in the late afternoon on the East Coast.

Various forecasts of a high number of travelers over the weekend proved to be correct. The Transportation Security Administration reported screening more than 11 million people at airport checkpoints Thursday through Monday.

That was a 9% drop from the same days in 2019, but an increase of almost 25% from a year ago. Crowds of just under 2.4 million on Thursday and Friday nearly matched the pandemic peak set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

It also meant that many flights were packed, as airline schedules have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to figures from travel research firm Cirium.

The U.S. airline industry hopes to boost passenger numbers, in part by removing one of the last pandemic-related travel restrictions in the United States. Industry representatives said they met with White House officials on Tuesday to reiterate their demand to end the requirement that travelers must test negative for COVID-19 within a day of flying to the states. -United.

Trade group Airlines for America said its member airlines estimate lifting the requirement would result in 4.3 million additional international passengers over a year. Airlines believe many Americans do not want to travel abroad because they could be stranded if they contract the virus while traveling.

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