The real reasons behind US flight cancellations, delays: Don’t blame Mother Nature

Conflict and a lack of staff, along with internal misunderstandings, appear to be the main causes of the chaos. While officials and airlines were quick to blame a series of thunderstorms threatening the Northeast, it seems that there is a deeper reason for the frustrating debacle – a veritable Bermuda Triangle within.

Insufficient staffing

Due to the severe weather over the weekend, airlines across the US were unable to quickly recover from the lingering staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.

Most airlines made serious staff cuts in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, as CNN explained. Rehiring is expected to take longer than anticipated, as demand is projected to renew over the course of the next three years.

A traveler checks the departures flight board at the United Airlines gate.
Thousands of US airline passengers were stranded this week as severe weather grounded and delayed flights.

According to Cirium, an aviation analytics company, the report mentioned that the capacity of domestic airlines in the United States is still 10 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels.

In the past few days, similar to the experience of numerous dissatisfied travelers, the decrease in availability makes it more challenging to secure alternative seats for passengers whose original flights have been cancelled.

Airlines with insufficient staff are preparing for the overwhelming surge in demand, and it is anticipated that this Friday, June 30, will be the most hectic day for air travel since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

Planes at LaGuardia Airport.
United Airlines has consistently led the way with the most flight cancellations this week.

According to CNN, Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta, informed investors on Tuesday that there are significant enhancements that can be made compared to last summer. There are still areas where improvements can be made in the airline’s operations to ensure optimal performance.

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United said on Wednesday that it consistently had to cancel most flights this week, as it was in holiday mode ahead of July 4th.

The airline stated on Wednesday evening that “off-duty flight attendants from all over the country are contacting us to work on open trips.” Our baggage backlog at Newark has decreased by over 30% since Tuesday, and we anticipate fewer seat cancellations today in comparison to yesterday.

FAA controversy

Last weekend, United Airlines made headlines as thousands of flights were canceled at Newark Liberty International Airport, which is a major hub for the airline.

FlightAware reported that on Thursday, the airline maintained its position as a leader with 385 flights being canceled and 376 flights facing delays.

Pete Buttigieg.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was quick to brush the widespread frustration under the rug at an unrelated event on Wednesday.
Getty Images

Kirby Scott, the CEO, blamed the understaffing and lack of experience at the Federal Aviation Administration for the debacle mentioned in the memo that was circulated earlier this week.

He expressed his regret, stating that the staffing shortages at the FAA were further compounded by the adverse weather conditions on Sunday. This put everyone in a difficult position and resulted in massive diversions, cancellations, and delays for both crews and passengers.

“To be honest, it’s not the responsibility of the present FAA management,” he continued.

“[However] they are accountable for resolving the issue they acquired.”

Travelers wait in line at the departure area check-in at the United Airlines terminal.
Travelers have been forced to sleep on airport floors as they wait for updates about their flight plans.

In order to resolve an issue, the FAA will consistently cooperate with individuals who are genuinely interested in joining us, as mentioned in their memo addressing Kirby’s remarks.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg promptly dismissed the widespread dissatisfaction at an unrelated event on Wednesday.

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While maintaining that the weather was still the primary cause of the extensive disruptions, he expressed, “I believe it demonstrates the airlines taking action. I want to acknowledge their efforts when it is deserved. However, it is evident that there is still much progress to be made.”

He concluded, “We need to take responsibility and step up, as we’re going to be working on anything and everything under the control of the FAA, under our control.”

Union disaster

Despite Kirby’s enthusiasm to attribute the fault to the FAA, the leading union at United proposes otherwise.

The Association of Flight Attendants stated in a memo shared with CNN on Monday that United’s management is particularly frustrating for flight attendants who have been working for long hours. They expressed high levels of frustration and a sense that there is no visible solution.

Besides issues with staffing in air traffic control, the memorandum asserted that there are also lengthy delays with crew schedulers.

The message clarified, “we are striving to discover remedies to alleviate some of the backlog since wait durations are presently over 3 hours as crew scheduling endeavors to update crews in sequential order.”

An airplane takes off from LaGuardia airport with buildings in Manhattan skyline in the background.
This weekend will see a surge of passengers as the 4th of July nears.

In regards to the accusations, United stated that “ensuring [their] flight attendants can promptly contact [them] is a high priority.”

CNN has announced that flight attendants can now electronically check their schedules and make changes to their trips. Additionally, the scheduling team has implemented mandatory overtime and increased staffing in order to handle the high volume of calls. We have also deployed all available resources to ensure that the scheduling crew can catch up on their workload.

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Intense aerial stress

This week, the number of travelers whose plans have been disrupted or canceled completely is barely sufficient to appease the barrage of reassurances from airlines and federal agencies.

“Paul Thacker, a passenger on a United flight, shared with CNN the challenging experience that unfolded over several days due to unforeseen complications during his supposed straightforward journey from Newark Airport to Toronto. I am in urgent need of accommodation and a place to purchase new clothing. I am completely unaware of where I will be spending the night and I am currently without any attire. Eventually, I reached a point of surrender and made a reservation for a Greyhound bus to Toronto. As my suitcase was mistakenly tagged for Washington, D.C., I am left without any clothing or personal care items.”

He informed the media source that he resorted to sleeping on the airport floor when he couldn’t locate a hotel. Thacker arrived at the travel hub in New Jersey on Monday, only to discover that his flight to Canada had been canceled.

After numerous delays, Michelle Maciel, another traveler, informed CNN that her initial flight was cancelled because she endured a seven-hour wait while attempting to reschedule a trip from Denver to Portland, Oregon.

She expressed, “How is this acceptable to any of us? I rested on the floor and I purchased a ticket. I’m 53 years old, I find it hard to believe. Unless I queue up in another line for numerous hours, there’s no one to inquire. I have no clue regarding the whereabouts of my baggage.”

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