Why this summer is already shaping up to be a drag for travelers

With the fact that the Transportation Security Administration has projected that more people will board flights this summer than in 2019, it is evident how many of them will encounter delays, cancellations, and other snags on their way to their destinations.

The shortage of air traffic controllers contributed to significant delays at Orlando International Airport and across the Southeast, as severe thunderstorms struck over the past weekend. However, the Northeast has also been particularly affected by the bad weather in the past few days. According to Flight Aware, nearly 2,700 flights were canceled and more than 33,000 flights were delayed on Sunday alone, due to the severe thunderstorms rolling through the East. So far, the busy travel season has been continuously disrupted by unpredictable staffing issues and weather conditions.

These delays have left thousands of stranded travelers at airports in recent weeks, whether they’ll get to their destinations with or without clarity. Unlike any we’ve seen in the past few years, this is a perfect culmination of a bad weather storm – a lot of flight disruptions. The airline industry has been dealing with lingering scheduling and staffing issues.

Storms and tornadoes tore through the Southeast and Ohio Valley, causing havoc. Subsequently, an additional 7,800 flights were delayed due to the threatening storms and tornadoes in the Northeast. Severe storms also led to the delay or cancellation of over 9,000 flights right before the July 4th holiday weekend.

Everywhere else, ripple effects caused by severe weather, such as a series of thunderstorms, can cause significant disruptions and delays in major airports. However, in one part of the country, these effects are not as widespread or impactful.

In contrast to 2018, when approximately 17 percent of flights experienced delays, last year saw a slight increase to over 19 percent of flights being delayed. In 2022, nearly 4 percent of flights were canceled. As of now in 2023, delays have impacted approximately 22 percent of flights. Staffing difficulties, in addition to problems with equipment, have further complicated the accommodation of adverse weather conditions.

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This summer could potentially continue to be challenging for air travel, as severe weather and increased airport traffic have resulted in widespread flight delays, causing stranded vacationers and causing disruptions at airports, similar to what happened last year.

According to Katy Nastro, a travel specialist at the flight bargains website Going.Com (previously known as Scott’s Cheap Flights), “Anything well into the thousands is certainly noteworthy.”

Limiting weight changes for passenger adjustments during flights can even be necessary in hot weather. Changes in air density due to high temperatures can affect the ability of planes to take off, and can also render airport tarmacs unsafe for workers due to the heat waves. However, it’s important to note that thunderstorms and rain only impact flights, not cancellations or delays. Nastro adds that weather-related delays are actually more common in the summer. Everyone assumes that the winter is the only period of time where you are likely to encounter tons of cancellations and delays.

O’Hare airport experienced increased disruptions due to the heavy impact of ongoing wildfires in Chicago. The air quality in the city turned into the worst in the world later that month, as a result of smoke from a Canadian wildfire. In early June, flights at New York’s LaGuardia airport were briefly grounded by the FAA due to the smoke. Kevin Morris, in a recent tweet, explained that flight navigation systems are designed to work well against solid particles such as smoke, but they are even more affected by water droplets. He also mentioned that smoke from wildfires can be more disruptive than rain or fog, as it can throw a wrench into flying due to ash and smoke.

Delays can pile up and lead to even slower operating pace, with everything operating at a slower pace. Wind can also postpone landing or flying a plane. Delays can occur because airlines and airports need to increase the space between planes during takeoff and landing, which means they need to be more careful during takeoff and landing. Delays happen because airlines and airports need to be more careful during takeoff and landing, as it means planes move more slowly. Planes can safely fly and operate during extreme weather conditions.

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Experts predict that the summer of 2023 will be particularly hot and travel is guaranteed to be affected. There are signs that smoky skies could soon become a common feature of life in the Northeast. While the West Coast is no stranger to life disruptions due to wildfire smoke, scientists have been telling us that extreme weather is likely to become more intense and occur more frequently due to the climate crisis. This is another factor to consider as we plan to head into the summer travel season.

During the peak holiday travel week, Southwest Airlines came head to head with frustrations when almost 3,000 flights were canceled. These mass cancellations were contributed by staffing shortages, miscommunication in scheduling, and inefficient labor cost reduction efforts, as explained by Nastro. The pandemic also played a role, as airlines offered buyouts to some of their older pilots, creating a dearth of experienced staffers. Furthermore, persistent issues with outdated technology and the dire and increasingly unpredictable weather conditions also contributed to the mass cancellations.

The increasing capacity of aircraft, coupled with a reduction in the total number of flights, has led to the hiring of more air traffic controllers and pilots. The government and airlines have been making efforts to prepare themselves for the unprecedented demand for air travel this summer. In response to the chaos and accidents of 2022, which resulted in excessive cancellations and delays, the Department of Transportation is proposing new rules that would hold the airline industry more accountable and require airlines to compensate passengers. However, it is important to note that the shortage of FAA personnel is a very real issue, and disruptions in travel are not solely the fault of the airlines or bad weather.

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Nonetheless, these issues do not disappear immediately. “Aviators require time to undergo training,” Nastro states.

In order to reduce traffic, airlines are encouraging the use of bigger planes but fewer flights, while still being able to deliver the same number of passengers to their destinations. Additionally, they are taking steps to ensure “smooth and safe” air travel this summer. The FAA, in an emailed statement to Vox, expressed their willingness to collaborate with anyone seriously interested in helping to solve the problem. United CEO Kirby Scott blamed the FAA in an internal memo, stating that they had “failed us this weekend” and pointing to the administration’s lack of experienced staff. Early this month, United Airlines experienced the most disruptions in flights.

Morning flights have a higher on-time arrival rate compared to afternoon or evening flights, with a 25 percentage point difference. Nastro suggests considering a nonstop or morning flight. Weather conditions can change rapidly and unpredictably, making it difficult to completely avoid disruptions to scheduled air travel for passengers. Delays and cancellations frequently occur as a result of cumulative slowdowns, which tend to worsen as the day progresses.

According to Nastro, monthly fluctuations can be observed, while yearly fluctuations are more prominent. However, it is not necessarily the case that if an airport is usually punctual, it will not be affected by inclement weather. It is important to consider the records of cancellations and delays within a specific timeframe when assessing the performance of airlines or airports, as not all of them provide helpful insights.

She also advises fliers to avoid assuming the worst, as one of the safest modes of travel is private submersible excursions, which are definitely more private and driving or flight than more and that’s why strict regulations happen around commercial air travel.

This story was originally published in June and has been updated to reflect additional flight disruptions in July. The update was published on July 10 at 3:10 pm ET.

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