Airlines in the US will be looking to steady operations after a week of flight delays and cancellations , as the number of people flying has continued to increase after dipping to its lowest levels during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the delays are being exacerbated by thunderstorms that battered the northeast. On Tuesday, 6,500 flights were delayed and around 1,900 were cancelled on the East Coast, as nearly 10,000 flights were impacted in total.
United Airlines, with a major hub in Newark, New Jersey, canceled about 786 flights, or 26 per cent of its schedule on Tuesday. JetBlue canceled 16 per cent of its flights, as per FlightAware.
As of Thursday morning, United Airlines was “still trying to catch up”, Good Morning America reported. The airline carrier had cancelled over 300 flights, or about 10 per cent of its operations, by the time the show was broadcast.
With over 52,500 scheduled flights, travel is expected to peak on Thursday – likely to be the biggest travel day of the long holiday period.
A spokesperson for United Airlines told Fox Business the disruptions were due to “several consecutive days of severe weather and lingering thunderstorms in the Northeast” along with “FAA Federal Aviation Administration) staffing constraints”.
“We estimate that over 150,000 customers on United alone were impacted this weekend because of FAA staffing issues and their ability to manage traffic,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby wrote in a memo to employees Tuesday night.
Transport secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department the FAA falls under, told GMA the airline carrier “seems to have some issues that are specific” to it.
“Statistics make clear that FAA availability issues are not even close to being the number one cause of delays and cancellations,” Mr Buttigieg said, adding that “we do want more cushioning in terms of the air traffic controller workforce”.
The FAA has admitted that it is understaffed at key facilities, including one in the New York City region.
Last week, the Transportation Department’s inspector general said in a report that the FAA has made only “limited efforts” to adequately staff critical air traffic control centers and lacks a plan to tackle the problem, according to the Associated Press.
Pictures obtained by the Daily Mail capture chaos at different airports across the United States; in one photograph, travellers can be seen crowding a United Airlines customer service booth at Houston airport.
Another shows baggage pile-up at JFK in New York. In a photo taken at LAX in Los Angeles, travellers can be seen forming long queues at the check-in counters.
A passenger at Newark airport, Dean Wheelan told GMA: “It’s my third day here, I was supposed to fly to Miami. We lost our cruise, we had to pay for it. And now they can’t find our bags.”
Margo and Jason Osborne, who were impacted by a United flight cancellation in Newark, reported seeing people looking for unaccompanied minors and heard about stranded travelers who spent hours in line or slept at the airport.
“All these poor people are literally just sitting there at the mercy of a company who is not doing anything to help them,” Margo told the Associated Press. “There is zero customer service right now.”
In a statement to GMA, a spokesperson for United Airlines said it wil be “on-track to restore operations” by the holiday weekend, and will be asking off-duty flight attendants to work those flights.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.
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