US flight disruptions finally ease as holiday weekend ends

Lit tunnel in the United Airlines terminal, O’Hare International Airport, Chicago Illinois.

Andrew Woodley | Universal Images Group via Getty Images

U.S. airline delays eased on Monday as the weather improved, a relief for travelers and airlines as the July 4 holiday weekend draws to a close.

By Monday afternoon, about 1,200 US flights had been delayed and 183 canceled, up from nearly 4,700 delays and more than 300 cancellations a day earlier, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

This year through July 3, 2.8% of the more than 4.1 million flights scheduled by US airlines have been canceled, compared to 2.1% of the more than 4.74 million flights scheduled during the same period, according to FlightAware. And so far this year, 20.2% of flights have been delayed, compared to 16.7%.

about a fifth of US airline flights were delayed and 2.8% canceled, compared to 2.1% canceled during the same period of 2019.

The weekend was key for airlines as executives expected an increase in travelers after more than two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Passengers shelled out more for tickets as fares surged above 2019 levels.

Staff shortages in the industry, many of which stem from takeovers that airlines have urged workers to take during the pandemic, have exacerbated routine challenges like bad weather.

US airline executives will begin detailing their summer performance and providing an updated outlook for the year in quarterly reports starting mid-month. A big question is what happens after the peak in summer travel ends, as many children in the United States return to school in August.

Airlines have spent the past few weeks focusing on limiting disruption to summer travel. Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and others have cut their schedules to give themselves more leeway to recover when things go wrong, such as when thunderstorms hit major airline hubs during of the weekend.

Airlines and federal transportation officials have been pointing fingers in recent days as to the cause of the flight disruptions. Airlines have blamed air traffic control for long delays, while the FAA and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have criticized airlines for laying off workers during the pandemic, despite billions in federal aid.

Buttigieg said on Saturday that one of his own flights was canceled.

“The complexity of modern aviation requires everything to work together,” said Matt Colbert, who previously managed operations and strategies for several US carriers and is the founder of consulting firm Empire Aviation Services.

Delta has taken the unusual step of allowing travelers to change their flights outside of the July 1-4 peak period if they can fly through July 8, without paying a fare difference, in hopes customers could avoid some of the disruption on the busiest days. Envoy Air, a regional carrier owned by American Airlines, offered pilots triple pay to take extra shifts in July, CNBC reported last month.

“Bring patience,” Colbert said. “People working on the other side of the counter are also frustrated.”

Travel in Europe has turned chaotic, with passengers at some of the biggest hubs facing long queues and baggage delays as the industry grapples with staffing issues and rising demand .

Scandinavian airline SAS said on Monday it would be forced to cancel half of its flights after wage talks with pilots’ union representatives broke down, triggering a strike. Meanwhile, the chief operating officer of low-cost airline easyJet has resigned after recent waves of flight cancellations.

Corina C. Butler