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Fourth of July ‘travel drama’: Airlines warn passengers of flight delays, cancellations

  • July 04, 2022

flight delays and cancellations have become all too common this summer as air transportation struggles to get back to normal after the pandemic-era slump. 

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Demand for flights is up, and airlines are stretched thin trying to get people where they want to go. For travelers, it’s more important than ever to be patient and ready for changes, especially heading into a holiday weekend that’s sure to bring even bigger crowds to the airports.

What’s going on in the airports today?

As of 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, more than 3,090 U.S. flights were delayed and over 600 U.S. flights were cancelled, according to FlightAware, which tracks flights in real time.

On Friday, Flight Aware reported over 7,860 U.S. flight delays and more than 580 U.S. flight cancellations.

American Airlines had the most cancellations of any carrier in the U.S. on Saturday, with 96 flights axed by 3 p.m. ET, representing about 3% of the airline’s schedule. On Friday, Delta Air Lines lead U.S. cancellations, with 117 flights that were cancelled, also representing about 3% of the airline’s schedule. Those numbers do not include flights on American and Delta’s regional affiliates.

The climbing delays and cancellations arrive as U.S. airports experience the largest crowds seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. More than 2.49 million passengers went through security checkpoints at U.S. airports Friday, according to figures released by the Transportation Security Administration, surpassing the “pandemic era” high of 2.46 million reached earlier in the week.

The Federal Aviation Administration warns that things could get more difficult as summer storms threaten to cause problems in large swathes of the country.

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What’s causing the problems?

In the U.S., the biggest problem this summer has been a shortage of pilots. 

Airlines don’t have enough people on staff to fly all the flights they scheduled in many cases, and with rosters stretched thin, it’s taking extra time for carriers to recover when something goes wrong. 

Pilot shortage:Airlines struggle with reliability this summer

“We need more pilots to enter into the profession as an industry, as a country, that’s important. And until we address certain things to enable that to happen, this is going to become increasingly acute,” Andrew Levy, CEO of ultra-low-cost carrier Avelo Airlines told USA TODAY. “The result is going to be less air service in this country and people will pay higher fares.”

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On top of that, airlines say, the Federal Aviation Administration is struggling with staffing at some of its air traffic control centers, which can lead flight departures to be pushed back until the controllers have the bandwidth to handle more incoming planes.

“The answer of what the next few months are going to look like were answered three months ago in terms of staffing and schedules,” said Courtney Miller, founder of Visual Approach Analytics.

To that end, airlines including American, Delta, JetBlue and United have all announced varying degrees of schedule cuts through the summer. 

Delta Air Lines went as far as issuing a travel waiver letting customers rebook their July Fourth trip without paying change fees or fare differences. The waiver is good through July 8.

Tips for travelers

Joshua Bush, CEO of travel agency Avenue Two Travel, said travelers should expect delays and long lines, particularly at security and check-in. But they can take steps to minimize disruptions.

► For those looking at last-minute flights or booking new ones, consider flying nonstop when possible as Bush said it “removes the variables of where things can go wrong,” and flying from a major airport or hub where there are more opportunities for rerouting.

► He also recommended downloading your airline’s app so you will get notifications about changes more quickly, and forgoing checked luggage in favor of carry-ons. Not only does it reduce the chance of your luggage getting lost, Bush said, but you can more easily look into flying standby on another flight.

► If you are at the airport when your flight is canceled, Bush advised travelers to go see the gate agent or customer service as soon as possible, something he acknowledges “is far easier said than done” in busy airports. You can also call by phone, and he said many airline apps have a chat feature.

“You’ve got at least three different options of being able to try to solve the same problem,” he said.

Travel insurance can be helpful, too. Some insurers offer trip interruption, delay, and cancellation options, and will reimburse passengers whose bags are lost so they can buy clothing, or claim money to pay for a hotel or buy food in the airport.

“Each policy is different, so go ahead and definitely look at them,” he said.

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While passengers dealing with delays or cancellations are likely to be frustrated, Bush also urged patience when dealing with gate agents or other representatives.

“If they’ve had 100 people scream and yell at them and you’re the one person that’s nice, patient and kind with them, they’re going to try that much harder to get you where you need to go,” he said.

If your flight is canceled and you decide against rebooking, the airline has to refund any unused part of your ticket in cash.

That is true even if your fare is nonrefundable. If you experience a major delay, you may also be entitled to compensation or a refund.

Contributing: Wyatte Grantham-Philips, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.

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