Beginning as early as Thursday, domestic flights on carriers across the country began to struggle with a variety of factors, but that meltdown has continued and has not improved. Here’s what’s happening.
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Rolling Delays and Cancellations Nationwide
Beginning on Thursday (to my knowledge) rolling delays and cancellations began to rise across carriers. As of Saturday night, here are the notable delays and cancellations by origin airport in the US (more than 5,000 total):
- Orlando – 30% Cancelled, 39% Delayed
- Miami – 16% Cancelled, 25% Delayed
- Tampa – 26% Cancelled, 28% Delayed
- Fort Lauderdale – 16% Cancelled, 33% Delayed
- Fort Myers – 29% Cancelled, 37% Delayed
- Atlanta – 8% Cancelled, 20% Delayed
- Clearwater – 16% Cancelled, 14% Delayed
- Baltimore/Washington – 12% Cancelled, 39% Delayed
- Reagan National – 9% Cancelled, 25% Delayed
- Detroit – 8% Cancelled, 18% Delayed
- Chicago O’Hare – 5% Cancelled, 25% Delayed
- New York JFK – 7% Cancelled, 26% Delayed
Here are the delays by carrier:
- Southwest – 14% Cancelled, 41% Delayed
- American Airlines – 12% Cancelled, 20% Delayed
- Delta Air Lines – 8% Cancelled, 20% Delayed
- JetBlue – 14% Cancelled, 52% Delayed
- Spirit Airlines – 26% Cancelled, 29% Delayed
- Allegiant Airlines – 21% Cancelled, 35% Delayed
- Alaska Airlines – 11% Cancelled, 13% Delayed
- United Airlines – 2% Cancelled, 24% Delayed
- Frontier Airlines – 10% Cancelled, 27% Delayed
- Republic Airlines – 3% Cancelled, 12% Delayed
This week I encountered my own delay/cancellation experience with United that lasted more 27 hours. There are a number of reasons for the current delay and cancellations that have had a dramatic effect on mostly the eastern seaboard but throughout the system. For those who may be travelling elsewhere in the US, flights throughout the country are dependent not only on the aircraft but also the crew, which is why an airport like Detroit is experiencing delays that are not weather related, for example.
There are a number of factors that contributed to what has been a disastrous week of domestic travel. In years past, none of these issues would have been substantial enough to warrant multi-day delays.
High Load Factor
One complicating factor is elevated load factors due to spring break travel. I know plenty of casual travellers that have reached out to me this weekend looking for help with cancelled flights. One friend was standing in line with American at Miami airport for rebooking when another person further up in the line reported waiting six hours for their new travel arrangements.
On social media, others claimed JetBlue violated tarmac delay rules by being on the aircraft for six hours. A family member was notified about an oversold Spirit flight before it was ultimately cancelled. In my own case, the United flights I was rebooked onto extended into a fourth flight after each of the prior three were oversold to the extent I was denied standby on the fourth until I insisted. Flights are generally very full which makes service recoveries harder.
There were some limited weather events in the south and in the northeast. One band that had me grounded on Thursday night was an issue of winds more than anything else. The pilot suggested they would attempt to fly south from Newark, then west, then north to Pittsburgh, but couldn’t be approved despite hours of delays (including a one-hour plus tarmac delay.) Thunderstorms in Florida made it hard to get anywhere, those storms were more substantial.
Spirit, United, JetBlue, and Southwest all mentioned weather issues and three of those four have significant operations in Florida.
Southwest reported a computer issue that caused problems across the network (41% of flights delayed) and explains its share of the delays.
United claimed both reasons to me during my delays and cancellations, first that it was weather delays from the inbound aircraft, then delays for my actual flight pattern. The next day, delays from the inbound caused a six-hour delay, but later notifications suggested a “computer” issue.
JetBlue adds a mix of ATC issues and thunderstorms but some tweets addressed tech issues as well.
Thunderstorm activity along the gulf coast, in addition to Air Traffic Control delays have caused operational disruptions. We recommend arriving at the original departure time and staying near the gate just in case any changes are made.
— JetBlue (@JetBlue) April 2, 2022
Pilot Shortage/Crew Availability
Alaska Airlines experienced a shortage of 120 pilots demonstrating against the airline as a negotiation tactic with their ongoing struggle over contracts.
JetBlue took nearly 30 flights off the schedule due to pilot shortages earlier this year, Republic stopped serving a number of gateways for the same reasons. Alaska was down 60 pilot pairs this weekend for labor action as noted, but weathered the storm surprisingly well compared with others.
When a flight is delayed, sometimes, it’s that the equipment (the airplane itself) isn’t ready or in place. However, even with more airplanes in hubs than are scheduled, without crews to fly, service, or operate the planes, the equipment is a moot point.
This is an issue that has been years in the making and is now rearing its head with issues everywhere. Crews (flight attendants, and pilots) are in demand and this is one reason why airplanes may be parked at the gate but aren’t going anywhere.
When Will Service Return to Normal?
The most concerning aspect is that in years past, even major weather disruptions could be rectified relatively quickly. However, it appears in this instance that those delays have rolled for many days. For example, those trying to fly Southwest from Fort Myers to, well, nearly anywhere, are blocked for days with no seats even offered.
There’s just one flight option to Chicago Midway under $600 one-way through Friday (six days out) and no options available at all until at least Wednesday.
Many sites showing options are displaying phantom space and fares that either change drastically at the payment screen or are already sold out but simply haven’t been updated.
From my searches, it looks like service won’t be able to recover until the middle of the coming week. This is a complete shock for most travellers who also struggle to find replacement alternatives like rental cars, or even flights from or to secondary airports in close proximity to their origin or destination. High hotel costs make that an even more significant issue.
I intended to fly out of Newark on Thursday night just after 6 PM on United but didn’t finally leave the ground until almost 9 PM the following day. Despite being no stranger to delays – it’s just part of air travel and happens to all of us. I had watched four other flights delay or cancel and nearly missed my final opportunity before spending yet another night. I was lucky to get out because others are finding, as I did, that rental cars are unavailable or priced too high, and carriers across the country are all experiencing the same trouble.
Some of these issues align. Tech issues were loosely cited by JetBlue and Southwest, and again by United in at least one communication regarding my flight. The airports that are most severely problematic are in areas where weather disturbances were a major factor. However, it would be foolish to ignore the lack of elasticity in the system at the moment due to crew availability for airlines to recover from these challenges in a way we haven’t seen before.
What do you think? Did you travel this weekend?
The root cause is a drastic over-reaction to a seasonal coronavirus strain.
All supply chain issues, employment issues – stem from that awful social media fueled reaction.
So, I have no sympathy for people – this is what we get when we panic.
Wheres Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg? A mess made possible by Brandon. Enjoy!
Yeah, cute. Where was accountability and assurances that all that bailout money under Chao/ Trump was going to keep airlines ready to fly at full capacity when demand came back?
If Trump hadn’t bailed out the airlines you would be riding on Greyhound.
Maybe, but I would not be sitting next to you.
Right on Steve and Santastico
The airlines all have very sophisticated scheduling programs that maximize aircraft and crew usage. There are fewer people in dispatch and crew scheduling, partially as a result of COVID and the great resignation but, primarily as a result of management decisions that those folks weren’t needed because of the automation in place. The automation also lets the airline shave down the number of crew they have too. When something goes wrong – weather, etc. – there’s no one to fix it. They don’t have enough people to know where the crews or aircraft actually are much less to try to redeploy them. And the process is much more complicated than it used to be because of the automation. In days of old, there was a tendency to keep crews together and together with the planes. Now, they aren’t. Flights can’t leave the gate because they have no crew. The crew is out on another plane on the ramp waiting for a gate slowly timing out from flying that day. The result is cascading cancellations.
Also, I don’t know what airport Clearwater is. Perhaps you’re referring to St Petersburg Florida? Clearwater itself doesn’t have an airport. Details matter.
Is Secretary Buttplug planning on doing anything or will he be too busy giving birth again like the bulk of his first year.
His leave was less than two months. Get educated and get a life
He’s been on leave since his appointment.
LOL +1 Chris
There’s a shortage of labor everywhere. So much for the machines taking all the jobs.
Delayed twice out of FLL Friday to JFK on Delta then ultimately cancelled. Rebooked on a later flight that was 2 hours late leaving. Was told all due to “weather” but they couldn’t explain further. Weather in FLL at the time was beautiful. Called home to NY and family said weather in NY at the time was fine. No rain, and light wind. Waited in line 45 minutes to enter Delta SkyClub as we were told there were too many people already in the club. No discount when asked if I had to pay full price for my guest, even though I waited in line for 45 minutes and was on a 4 plus hour flight delay at the time. Later received a text from Delta to claim my checked bag at bag claim in FLL when my first flight was cancelled. Had to exit club and security to get my bag and recheck for later flight to JFK now booked on. Waited in line 20+ plus minutes to recheck bag as check in lines were rather long including SkyPriority line. Then went back through security. Lots of hoops to jump through and did them all without complaining but didn’t feel I got a “true” answer to the delays. Lots of apologizing by flight crew but would have been better if Delta sent me a $100 credit for my inconvenience like Southwest did recently for a flight cabcellation I experienced with them. I am a Diamond with Delta and have flown Southwest twice in the last 6 months.
It isn’t always the weather at your destination airport or your departing airport that can cause delays. Each of those airports had departure routes and arrival routes. The diaries route can run out 200 miles from your departure airport and the arrival rotunda are much the same. The arrival routes into NYC start south of Washington DC. Weather asking those corridors effects how many aircraft can flow through them. That backs up the system and causes delays when the weather at either place is completely clear. Our antiquated ATC system can’t adjust very easily to the changes that the amount of traffic and weather cause today.
Unfortunately you are nothing special in delta. They know you will continue to come back and take more abuse. Flights are over sold. You might as well fly on Spirit or Jetblue
No no no to spirit flight got cancelled in Fort Lauderdale coming from Kingston Jamaica heading to Atlanta and because a customer in front of us got irate and we were supporting him the representative from spirit behind the counter would not take care of us despite us saying we were not with him .. we were guilty by association
Had to call for a supervisor after waiting in line hour and half had to remind them my ticket was not free .i will NEVER FLY SPIRIT AGAIN EVEN IF MY TICKET WAS FREE
I think we can all pretty much assume this summer is going to be a complete cluster …..
Flew 4 legs on Thursday. Three were mostly trouble free in the western half of the U.S. There were some seriously delayed flights at gates near me. It was snowing in ORD which caused 1/2 hour delay for deicing. The bigger problem was in CMH where all the gates were full because, the captain said, several flights had diverted there because of weather. We waited another hour late at night. However, usually it takes close to an hour for United to offload luggage in CMH, but that night, it was waiting when I got to baggage claim. They must have unloaded it when we were parked waiting for a gate(?).
Stuck in Miami since Friday. Delta blamed weather, but I was on a direct flight to NC and weather was beautiful in Miami and NC.
Yep I was caught in that delay ripple this weekend. Stuck in Philly layover 2 days trying to get from Buffalo to Tampa for a Wedding. 4 flights cancelled on me Sat. i chucked the loss and came home to Bflo.
My flight in June was just cancelled. Let’s not be blind, this is due to rising fuel prices and profits getting hammered. They are consolidating flights to reduce cost. I locked in a price of 190 per ticket months ago, now prices are over 600. They can blame it on anything they want to, but as a very wise man once said, “FOLLOW THE MONEY”.