Southwest Airlines passengers, this summer is already shaping up to be a challenge.
According to the pilots’ union, American Airlines is also dealing with a rise in delays, and it has reduced its schedule until mid-July, at least in part due to a lack of pilots.
Travelers are documenting lengthy airport lineups and describing grueling trips on social media.
After a round journey from her home in New Jersey to Miami this week, Tracey Milligan remarked of airports, “It was incredibly packed.”
Milligan and her 6-year-old daughter were stuck in traffic for hours on both legs of their journey. JetBlue agents informed customers there was a weight issue before the trip to Florida, then they were missing three crew members because the airline was short-staffed, and then there was a weather delay, she claimed.
“I wanted to start shouting and cussing everyone out, but it won’t get you anywhere, and security would come and take you off the plane,” she explained.
At the very least, the passengers aboard Milligan’s planes maintained their composure. Unruly passengers have increased on airlines, and some experts anticipate that this trend will continue this summer as flights get even more packed.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, there were ten days in June when more than 2 million people passed through U.S. airports. Domestic leisure travel is virtually back to 2019 levels, according to airlines, however, the dearth of business travelers means that overall passenger numbers are still down roughly 20% compared to the same days in 2019.
The airlines were anticipating a busy July Fourth weekend, with over 100,000 domestic flights scheduled between July 1 and July 5. According to statistics from aviation researcher Cirium, it was roughly double the 58,000 they gave during the same days last year. The TSA checked more passengers on July 1st than on the same day in 2019.
The weekend exemplifies the quick turnaround that has boosted a sector that was on the verge of extinction last year. Many people expected the recovery to be slower than it has been, including, reportedly, the airlines themselves.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the federal government has provided $54 billion in subsidies to help airlines cover employment costs. In exchange, they were barred from furloughing or laying off employees. They were, however, given carte blanche to persuade tens of thousands of employees to accept buyouts, early retirement, or leave of absence.
Southwest executives offered double pay for flight attendants and other staff who commit to extra work through Wednesday as they prepped for packed flights during the holiday weekend.
“There is a personnel deficit all over the place. “There’s a training backlog on the pilot side,” Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said. “Southwest entered the summer with a razor-thin margin.”
Many pilots returning from leave are still undergoing federally mandated training to renew their abilities and are not yet qualified to fly, according to Murray. Pilots can surpass their FAA limit on the number of hours they are permitted to work when storms create significant delays, and there aren’t enough backups to step in, he added. Southwest also lobbied for an “aggressive” summer schedule, he added, in order to capitalize on growing travel demand.
Most delays, according to Southwest spokesperson Brandy King, are due to weather, and with fewer flights than before the epidemic, it’s more difficult for Southwest to recover from extended thunderstorms.
Unions at American Airlines claim that labor shortages are causing delays and the cancellation of up to 80 flights per day until mid-July. The pilots’ union at American Airlines said management did not respond swiftly enough to retrain 1,600 pilots who were briefly furloughed then rehired last year or replace the 1,000 who retired, similar to Southwest.
In June, American also had a significant number of delays. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have fared better, but Delta had to postpone dozens of flights over Thanksgiving last year and again around Easter this year due to personnel shortages.
Airlines that forced workers to resign a year ago are suddenly rehiring, which might help alleviate staffing shortages. Delta, for example, intends to employ over 1,000 pilots by next summer, with approximately 75 starting this August.
Passengers whose flights aren’t canceled or delayed are nonetheless in danger of being seated next to unruly passengers. Since January 1, airlines have recorded more than 3,200 cases of disruptive customers, the majority of which involved compliance with the government mandate that passengers wear face masks on flights, and some have been hit with hefty fines.
Andrew Thomas, a frequent flier who teaches international business at The University of Akron and has studied air rage for more than 20 years, feels that conditions are perfect for even more incidents this summer since passengers are more agitated than ever.
“The issue existed before to COVID, and now you’re putting more people in the sky, and you’re exacerbating it with the masks,” Thomas explained. “The quality of service is appalling. Planes are full, they don’t feed you, and finding food in an airport is difficult. Alcohol is the only thing that is easy to come by, which is not a good thing.”