Southwest Airlines customers have faced thousands upon delays , and hundreds of cancelled flights this month due to computer problems, staff shortages, and bad weather.
American Airlines is also experiencing delays and has reduced its schedule to mid-July, at least partially because it does not have enough pilots, according the union of pilots.
Photos of long lines at airports are being posted by travelers who describe painful flights.
After a round trip from New Jersey to Miami, Tracey Milligan described airports as "ridiculously crowded".
Milligan and her 6-year old daughter had to endure long delays on both legs of their trip. She said that JetBlue agents told passengers about a weight discrepancy before they flew to Florida. Then, three crew members were missing because of a staff shortage. Finally, there was weather delays.
She said, "I wanted to shout at everyone, but that doesn’t get you anywhere. Security will come and take you off the plane."
Milligan's passengers were able to keep their cool on Milligan’s flights. Unruly passengers have been a problem for airlines, and experts believe it will worsen this summer as more people fly.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, there have been 10 days when more than 2,000,000 travelers passed through U.S. Airports in June. According to the Transportation Security Administration, domestic leisure travel is almost back at 2019 levels. However, there has been a decline in business travelers, which means that the overall number of passengers for the week is down 20% compared to the same days of 2019.
According to the airlines, they were anticipating a record-breaking July Fourth weekend and had scheduled more than 100,000 U.S. flight between July 1st and July 5. According to Cirium data, this was almost twice the 58,000 flights they offered in the same period last year. July 1 marked the first time that the TSA had screened more people than in 2019, according to data from Cirium.
This weekend demonstrates the quick turnaround that has boosted an industry that was struggling for survival last year. Many expected a faster recovery, including the airlines.
U.S. airlines received $54 billion in federal assistance to cover payroll expenses since the outbreak of the pandemic. They were also prohibited from furloughing and laying off employees. They were however allowed to persuade thousands of employees to accept buyouts, early retirement, or leave of absence.
Some are now finding that they don't have enough pilots and other key positions.
Southwest officials were aware that there would be crowded flights this weekend, so they offered to pay double the wages for flight attendants and all employees who agreed to work extra through Wednesday.
"The staffing shortfall is all-encompassing. It's a training backlog on the pilot side," stated Casey Murray, president, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. "Southwest entered the summer with very limited margin."
Murray stated that many of the pilots returning from leave are still receiving federally required training to refresh and they are not yet eligible to fly. He said that pilots who are subject to long delays due to storms could reach their FAA limits on how many hours they can work and there isn't enough backups. He added that Southwest had pushed for an aggressive summer schedule in order to capitalize on the rising demand for travel.
According to Flightaware.com, Southwest has experienced an average of more than 1,300 delays per day since June 14 -- which is a remarkable 40% of its scheduled flights -- according the tracking service Flightaware.com.
Brandy King, a spokesperson for Southwest, stated that most delays were caused weather-related. Southwest has fewer flights now than before the pandemic and it is harder to recover from long thunderstorms.
American Airlines unions claim that labor shortages are causing delays and the scrub of up to 80 flights per day from the schedule to mid-July. American's pilots union echoes Southwest. It claims that management failed to act fast enough to retrain 1,600 temporarily furloughed pilots, then rehired last yea or replace the 1,000 who had retired.
American also experienced high delays in June. Although United Airlines and Delta Air Lines appear to be doing better, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have had to cancel many flights during Thanksgiving and Easter last year due to staff shortages.
People were forced to leave airlines a year back by the airline. Now, they are hiring again to help with staff shortages. Delta plans to hire over 1,000 pilots next summer and has 75 pilots in place as of this August.
Even if flights are not canceled or delayed, passengers still have the risk of being onboard with unruly plane mates. Since Jan. 1, airlines have reported over 3,200 incidents involving unruly passengers. Most of these involve compliance with federal requirements to wear face masks while flying, while some are subject to large fines.
Andrew Thomas is a frequent flyer and teaches international business at The University of Akron. He believes that the summer season will bring more accidents on planes because people are more stressed than ever.
Thomas stated that the problem existed before COVID and that you now have more people in the skies and masks only make it worse. "Service levels are terrible. It's difficult to find food at airports when planes are full. Alcohol is the only thing you can get, and that is not a good thing.