The confluence of two holidays, Father’s Day and Juneteenth, and a season of “revenge travel” continued to heap pressure on the already stretched airline industry as 4,200 additional US flights were delayed and 900 canceled on Sunday, pushing the total number of flights interrupted since Thursday to 19,000.
Delta was hit hardest, with 6% of its total flights on Sunday cancelled. A further 200 flights were cancelled early Monday.
The travel conditions have been blamed on pilot and staff shortages, packed planes and the logistical effects of bad weather. Airports with the most interruptions include Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and JFK and LaGuardia in New York.
According to the TSA, Friday was the busiest day for air travel this year, with more than 2.4 million people passing through security. Saturday was slightly lower with 2.1 million travelers.
On Saturday, the US transport secretary, Pete Buttigieg, said he has called on the airlines to “stress-test” their summer schedules and add more customer-service workers to handle the added demand. Some airlines, including Delta, have already cut back on flights.
Buttigieg added enforcement actions could be applied against airlines that do not live up to consumer-protection standards.
“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,” he said.
After two years of pandemic-related travel cancellations and delays, the US Travel Association said 85% of Americans are expecting to travel this summer.
Earlier this year, the CEO of Expedia, Peter Kern, told Bloomberg that the travel industry had “been talking about pent-up demand for a long time, but until now there have been too many restrictions in place for people to do too much with it”.
Compounding the issues facing travelers is a shortage of pilots. The US is set to lose about half of its pilots to retirement in the next 15 years, according to ABC News. Replacing them is not simple, as airlines are also contending with a shortage of instructors.
On Sunday, before a meeting of International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Doha, Qatar, the director, Willie Walsh, said that although most carriers are enjoying bumper sales, there are doubts about how long the surge will continue.
High fuel prices are likely to push fares up further, even as travelers’ budgets are constrained.
“It may be the case that some people can no longer afford to travel,” Walsh said. “Airlines don’t have the ability to absorb this additional cost, particularly given the financial damage that has been done by two years of shutdown.”