Thousands of Americans were stranded this weekend when airlines canceled hundreds of flights daily across the country as millions of travelers tried to take to the skies.
Airlines began canceling flights last Thursday in response to a spate of storms across the country. Airports with the most cancellations included those in Charlotte, North Carolina, a major hub for American Airlines, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty in the New York City area, and Reagan Washington National outside Washington, D.C.
By the end of Thursday, airlines scrubbed more than 1,700 flights, according to tracking service FlightAware. On Friday, airlines canceled 1,400 flights, many of them again because thunderstorms hit parts of the East Coast.
Cancellations and delays began to slow down by Saturday, when airlines canceled 876 flights and saw 3,923 delays by 11:00 p.m. that day. Sunday saw 922 canceled flights and over 6,000 reported delays within, into or departing the United States.
On top of the unpredictable summer weather, airlines are struggling with shortages of workers, especially pilots, that are hurting their ability to operate all their planned flights. Pilot unions at Delta, American and Southwest have said their airlines were too slow to replace pilots who retired or took leaves of absence during the early part of the pandemic.
Delta Airlines on Friday said it has reduced cancellations by hiring more pilots and flight attendants and by scheduling crews to adjust more quickly to disruptions such as thunderstorms.
The frustrating travel weekend comes just a few weeks after Memorial Day travel left passengers stranded both at airports around the country and around the world as airlines continue to struggle to keep up with surging demand after two years of diminished travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Biden administration has taken note of travelers’ frustrations. On Thursday, transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg met with airline CEOs to discuss steps they are taking to avoid a repeat of the Memorial Day weekend travel mess – and the following day, Buttigieg’s own flight was canceled.
“That is happening to a lot of people, and that is exactly why we are paying close attention here to what can be done and how to make sure that the airlines are delivering,” Buttigieg told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.
Buttigieg said he is pushing the airlines to stress-test their summer schedules to ensure they can operate all their planned flights with the employees they have, and to add customer-service workers. That could put pressure on airlines to make additional cuts in their summer schedules.
Buttigieg said his department could take enforcement actions against airlines that fail to live up to consumer-protection standards. But first, he said, he wants to see whether there are major flight disruptions over the July Fourth holiday weekend and the rest of the summer.
So far in June, more than 2.2 million travelers a day on average have gone through security checkpoints at U.S. airports. That’s up 22% from a year ago although still down 13% from the same period before the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.