Airlines Canceling Flights Due to Understaffing


People walking in an airport | Image by Shutterstock

Airlines in the United States canceled more than 3,000 flights on Monday as they struggled due to a staff shortage ranging from pilots to crew members. Total flight cancellations on Monday reached 3,041, according to FlightAware. A total of 2,242 have been canceled for Tuesday as of press time.

Delta Air Lines canceled 237 flights, Republic Airways Inc. canceled 207, American Airlines Group Inc. canceled 137, and United Airlines Holdings Inc. canceled 132 flights on June 27.

There are several factors contributing to the shortage of airline staff. As previously reported in The Dallas Express, many airline workers laid off during the pandemic have found employment elsewhere or are seeking flexible working conditions not found in the airline industry.

Some pilots took early retirement during the COVID-19 lockdowns, with American Airlines reporting that 7% of its pilots accepted early retirement packages. Some who did not retire during COVID restrictions are now nearing the mandatory retirement age (65) for pilots.

Also, the industry is seeing fewer applicants for new pilots. In years past, a good percentage of pilots entered the industry following a career in the military, but that trend has been decreasing for several years, according to Lillian Tamm, president of Avicor Aviation Inc.

In the 1980s, approximately 66% of airline pilots came from a military background, but by 2019, that number had dwindled to about 30%, Bloomberg reported.

Even the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States is experiencing staff shortages, according to Reuters.

The FAA granted United permission to temporarily reduce Newark flights last week after the Chicago-based carrier requested a waiver citing issues due to airport construction and air traffic control staffing.

On Friday, Airlines for America, a trade organization, wrote in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that the FAA must ensure air traffic control positions are adequately filled to avoid further summer travel disruptions.

The organization claimed that air traffic control “staffing challenges have led to traffic restrictions under blue sky conditions,” calling it “a factor in at least one-third of recent cancellations.”

Airlines for America requested a meeting with transportation officials “to discuss how [they] can work together to better understand FAA’s controller staffing plan for the upcoming July 4th weekend and summer travel season.”

The FAA responded that it “has acted on the issues raised in the letter” by adding alternate routes, allocating additional air traffic controllers to high-demand locations, and facilitating data sharing.

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