Thousands of travelers stranded as airlines struggle with 4th of July demand

US air passengers faced extensive flight cancellations and delays this weekend, caused by a boom in travel demand coupled with widespread staffing shortages.

From Friday through Sunday, airlines flying in, to or from the United States canceled more than 1,400 flights, according to FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, stranding and angering some passengers heading for long-awaited vacations. Of summer. In addition, more than 14,000 flights were delayed this holiday weekend, according to data from the site.

Some airlines appeared to be struggling to handle passenger volumes approaching or, in some cases, even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more passengers (2.49 million people) than any other day this year. That was up from 2.18 travelers tested on July 1, 2019, before the pandemic.

The experience was frustrating for some US airline passengers. On Saturday, 1,048, or 29 percent, of Southwest Airlines flights were delayed, as were 28 percent of American Airlines flights, according to FlightAware. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines had similar problems, with 21 and 19 percent of their flights also delayed. On Sunday, in the middle of the holiday weekend, travelers seemed to have a respite from the worst of trouble.

“Obviously, if it’s your flight that’s delayed or cancelled, it’s a disaster,” said Robert W. Mann Jr., a former airline executive who now runs airline consultancy RW Mann & Company.

In a typical month, Mann noted, about 20 percent of flights are delayed or cancelled. But this holiday weekend, he said, about 30 percent of flights were delayed or canceled, an increase of 50 percent. “It’s a little worse than usual,” he said.

Adding to the pressure on airlines this weekend was a flaw in the pilot scheduling system at American Airlines that allowed pilots to cancel thousands of flight assignments for July. The airline said on Saturday that it did not anticipate any “operational impact” from the failure.

But the Allied Pilots Association, the pilots’ union for American Airlines, said the airline had unilaterally reinstated canceled trips without the pilots’ consent. The union said it was pressuring the airline to pay an “inconvenience premium” to pilots affected by scheduling system problems.

In a nod to rising passenger frustrations this summer, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, issued an apology last week.

“I know that many of you may have experienced disruptions, sometimes significant ones, to your travels as we rebuild our operation from the depths of 2020 while adjusting to a record level of demand,” Mr. Bastian wrote in a LinkedIn post. . He added: “Although most of our flights continue to operate on time, this level of disruption and uncertainty is unacceptable.”

In an email, Morgan Durrant, a Delta spokeswoman, said the airline was managing “exacerbating factors” of bad weather and air traffic control delays, which affect the availability of flight crews. The airline was “working around the clock to make Delta’s operation as resilient as possible to minimize the ripple effect of disruptions,” Durrant said. “Still, expect some operational challenges this holiday weekend.”

However, as the holiday weekend progressed, the series of flight problems began to abate. As of Sunday night, Delta had canceled just 1 percent of its flights and just 15 percent of Southwest Airlines flights had been delayed, according to FlightAware.

Southwest said Sunday that it was providing “a safe and reliable experience across our network today with fewer than 10 total cancellations” for the day.

American Airlines and United Airlines did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

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