Thousands of flights have been canceled or delayed in the past 48 hours due to disruptive weather, leaving travelers across the U.S. stranded for hours as airlines, already strapped for personnel, face booming summer demand.
More than 6,500 flights were scrapped Thursday and Friday, according to the data group FlightAware, while nearly 12,000 flights were delayed. The troubles came as storms gripped parts of the South and Northeast; flights into and out of North Carolina's Charlotte Douglas International Airport were most affected, followed by airports in the New York-New Jersey area.
The disruptions came as transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg met virtually late Thursday with airline CEOs to discuss ways to improve performance and operations. CNBC, quoting a source familiar with the talks, reported Buttigieg asked airlines what steps they were taking to ease disruptions, especially with the July 4 weekend approaching.
“We appreciated the opportunity to meet with Department of Transportation Secretary Buttigieg to discuss our shared commitment to prioritizing the safety and security of all travelers as they reunite with friends, family and colleagues this summer,” Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, which represents large U.S. carriers, said in a statement according to CNBC.
The summer travel season kicked off inauspiciously, as some 2,700 flights were canceled over Memorial Day. That came as airlines like Delta said they were canceling as many as 100 daily departures this summer.
The developments prompted two U.S. senators to send a letter to Buttigieg asking how airlines were being held accountable.
“While some flight cancellations are unavoidable, the sheer number of delays and cancellations this past weekend raises questions about airline decision-making,” Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey wrote in the letter, dated June 2, according to Reuters.
The day before, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told reporters in New York the airline was working to train new employees “as we’re seeing historic surging demand.”
While the roughly 2 million daily TSA passenger screenings is short of pre-pandemic levels, airlines are still recovering from capacity cuts they made during the pandemic. Combined with a wave of pilot retirements, it will likely take many more months for travel operations to stabilize, according to Kit Darby, president at KitDarby.com Aviation Consulting, LLC.
Travelers should make use of their airlines’ and airports’ smartphone apps — not to mention weather-tracking apps — to get a sense of delays and wait times in advance, Darby said.
"The days where you could go out and catch a flight like a bus — a percentage of that is not going to work anymore," Darby said.