Strained US airlines face July 4 test
U.S. airlines are bracing customers for what will probably be another bumpy holiday weekend as the industry struggles to manage a surge in travel demand that probably exceeds its current capacity.
Headlines warn of airport chaos over the July 4th weekend and drawing scrutiny from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and others in Washington.
In recent days, plane tracking sites have reported hundreds of flight cancelations and thousands of delays.
In an effort to steer passengers away from “potentially challenging weekend travel days,” Delta Air Lines announced on June 28 it would waive change fees for customers to shift one leg of their trip to within the July 1-8 period.
Although federal COVID-19 relief aid meant airlines didn’t need to lay off staff, tens of thousands of workers left the industry after carriers urged early retirements.
Today’s industry has about 15 percent less staff compared with the pre-pandemic period to handle about 90 percent of pre-2020 passenger volume, estimated analysts at Third Bridge, a consultancy.
Pilots are the most acute issue in a broad airline industry labor crunch, said Third Bridge analyst Peter McNally.
“There’s no short-term fix,” McNally told AFP. “The issue becomes most pronounced during these seasonal peaks.”
Airlines say they’re working to address the issue, recruiting pilots and other staff and trimming summer capacity by 15 percent compared with earlier plans.
While acknowledging the pilot supply problem, airline industry officials point to other exacerbating factors, including turbulent weather, increased staff absences due to COVID and insufficient personnel at flight traffic control at some key sites.