US airport chaos continues with more than 200 flights canceled today

Nearly 1,300 Southwest Airline pilots gathered outside the Dallas Love Field airport on Tuesday to protest ongoing staff shortages as travel chaos continued on the first official day of summer – with more than 200 flights across the United States canceled.

The Southwest Pilots Association called for better treatment of its pilots at the protest, which it called ‘the largest display of unity in Southwest Airlines history.’

It described the demonstration in Dallas, Texas an ‘informational picket’ in an effort to raise awareness of pilot fatigue, stress caused by an ongoing pilot shortage – which it says is to blame for massive delays and cancelations.

‘Our pilots have had to address the fatigue issue with management publicly, which is something that we never want to do, but you know, have been tired and have been trying to do everything they can,’ Capt. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Pilots Association told NBC DFW.

He said the main problem is issues with scheduling pilots on connecting flights.

‘We’ve seen our company not really address a lot of operational problems,’ Murray said. ‘And this has been going on for several years.

‘While we do need to hire pilots, the main problem really is the efficiency in the scheduling efficiencies we’ve seen.’

In April, Southwest Airlines announced that it was cutting nearly 20,000 flights from its summer schedule, including about a quarter of flights from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Destin-Fort Walton Beach in Florida. 

The airline had 2,200 fewer employees than there were three years earlier – even though the company had hired an additional 5,000 workers in 2021, according to the Dallas Morning News.

And of those who were working, a large number of pilots are canceling their shifts due to fatigue, and blaming it on erratic schedules from delays and cancelations.

None of the pilots at the demonstration on Tuesday were scheduled to work, though, as it is against union rules to call in sick to attend a protest, and Southwest Airlines said in a statement to NBC DFW that it ‘does not anticipate any disruption in service as a result of this single demonstration.

‘Southwest Airlines respects the rights of our employees to express their opinions,’ the company noted, adding: ‘For 51 years, we’ve maintained a legendary Southwest culture that honors our valued employees.’

Still, there were more than 200 cancelations canceled on Tuesday amid staff shortages, record-high inflation and rising gas prices, with over 1,000 flights delayed within, entering or departing the United States.

That followed a weekend that saw over 14,000 flights canceled – leaving thousands of people stranded at the airports.

Southwest Airline pilots gathered outside Dallas Love Field Airport on Tuesday to protest staffing shortages, which they say is causing them to be overworked

Southwest Airline pilots gathered outside Dallas Love Field Airport on Tuesday to protest staffing shortages, which they say is causing them to be overworked

Nearly 1,300 pilots lined the street outside the airport on Tuesday, but none were scheduled to work and Southwest Airlines officials said they do not anticipate the protest affecting operations

Nearly 1,300 pilots lined the street outside the airport on Tuesday, but none were scheduled to work and Southwest Airlines officials said they do not anticipate the protest affecting operations

Capt. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Pilots Association, said the pilots stand in solidarity with the passengers who are facing massive travel delays

Capt. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Pilots Association, said the pilots stand in solidarity with the passengers who are facing massive travel delays

At the protest on Tuesday, Murray said he wants passengers to know that the pilots stand with them during this travel frenzy following the COVID pandemic.

‘We’re tired of saying “I’m sorry” at every flight,’ he said at the demonstration, according to KDFW.

But, he said, pilots are feeling overworked to meet the never-ending travel demand amid the staff shortages.

‘Our pilots have lost over the last year almost 20,000 days off, which is over 50 years that our pilots have lost – involuntarily being made to fly on off days,’ he told NBC DFW. ‘And again, fatigue is cumulative.

‘So it adds up and the more flying that there is that has to be covered.’

Murray said he hopes the large picket will get the company’s attention to renegotiate pilot’s contracts, and Southwest Airlines said in a statement that contract negotiations are ongoing.

The protest on Tuesday followed a similar one last week by the Delta Air Lines Pilot Association, in which they picketed at Delta’s annual shareholders meeting in New York City.

In a tweet, the union said it is demanding the airline match the number of flights ‘with current pilot staffing to ensure safe, reliable service for our customers.’

The protest follows a similar one last week by the Delta Air Lines Pilot Association, in which pilots picketed to demand the airline match the number of flights with current pilot staffing numbers

The protest follows a similar one last week by the Delta Air Lines Pilot Association, in which pilots picketed to demand the airline match the number of flights with current pilot staffing numbers

Over the holiday weekend, a whopping 14,000 flights were canceled across the United States, leaving passengers stranded at airports overnight. 

On Thursday, more than 1,700 flights were canceled, and on Friday, 1,100 flights were canceled as a pandemic-high number of travelers passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.

By Saturday, CNBC reports, more than 6,300 flights were delayed into or leaving the United States and 859 flights were canceled – and more than 900 flights were cancelled on Sunday.

Monday also saw more than 3,600 flights were delayed within, or coming into or exiting the United States, with over 380 canceled. 

In total, about 3 percent of scheduled flights have been canceled this month, up 1 percent from the year before – and the total number of cancelations rose 16 percent to 13,581 flights from one year ago, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Air carriers say the backlog in flights comes as travel demands soar to pre-pandemic levels, yet staffing remains strained after mass COVID-19 fueled layoffs.

At the same time, the United States dollar is receiving a boost from rising interest rates, and gas prices are soaring.

The U.S. trade-weighted real exchange rate index, established in 2006, meanwhile, is at a record high and the benchmark Brent oil price is around $115 a barrel.

‘For airlines, it is not good at all. It is the perfect storm,’ Tony Webber, a former chief economist at Australia’s Qantas Airways said at the at the International Air Transport Association annual meeting in Doha, Qatar.

Internationally, the inflated rate of the United States dollar is increasing global oil prices, aircraft purchase and leasing charges, maintenance costs and sometimes even debt for non-American airlines.

‘It’s painful, buying fuel, buying everything,’ Korean Air Lines Co Ltd Chief Executive Walter Cho said of the strong U.S. dollar, trading at the highest level against the won in more than a decade. 

‘We have a lot of U.S. dollar debt and we have to pay interest on that. Interest is low but at this exchange rate it might as well be 10 percent,’ he said on the sidelines of an airline industry gathering in Doha.

For most non-U.S. airlines, the hit from rising costs far exceeds the benefit from ticket sales to U.S.-based customers converting to more local currency.

Indian low-cost carrier SpiceJet last week warned it would need to push up fares by 10 to 15 percent due to an increase in fuel prices and rupee depreciation.

Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Izham Ismail also said fuel had typically accounted for 20 percent of its costs, but that had risen to 45 percent due in part to the weak ringgit.

Meanwhile, American airline executives say they prefer a weaker dollar because they benefit from a higher conversion rate when they sell tickets in euros and other currencies to foreign customers.

Hawaiian Airlines Chief Executive Peter Ingram, for example, said the airline was watching the yen, trading at 20-year-lows, as it ramped up flights to Japan – traditionally the biggest foreign tourism market for Hawaii.

‘It’s not the binding constraint on demand at this point, but it is something that we’re certainly mindful of since the vast majority of the traffic on our flights, plus or minus 90 percent is Japanese originating traffic,’ he said of the yen.

 ‘And so the cost of traveling to the United States is going to be inflated by the exchange rate.’

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Passengers lined up to check in on their flights at Newark Liberty International Airport on the first official day of summer

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Passengers lined up to check in on their flights at Newark Liberty International Airport on the first official day of summer

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Travel chaos continued for a sixth straight day on Tuesday

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Travel chaos continued for a sixth straight day on Tuesday

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: A Delta passenger at Newark Liberty International Airport waited for her bags as more than 1,000 flights were delayed

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: A Delta passenger at Newark Liberty International Airport waited for her bags as more than 1,000 flights were delayed

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Passengers lined up to collect their baggage at Newark International

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Passengers lined up to collect their baggage at Newark International

At the same time, demand is surging to pre-pandemic levels, even as staffing at the airlines remains low as they try to ramp up their workforce from pandemic-era lows.

The United States recently lifted a pandemic-era restriction requiring people to test negative before boarding US-bound flights, and bookings for European destinations are almost back to 2019 levels, according to the Journal.

American Airlines announced on Monday the company ‘made the difficult decision’ to drop service to airports in Toledo, Ohio; Ithaca, New York and Islip, New York beginning September 7 citing a pilot shortage.

The airline is now allegedly contacting customers scheduled to fly after the route termination date in an effort to ‘offer alternate arrangements.’

A spokesperson for the company also said it is ‘extremely grateful for the care and service our team members provided’ at the impacted airports and claims to be ‘working closely with them during this time.’

Last week, Delta Airlines also announced it was cutting service by about 100 flights per day from July 1 to August 7 in an effort to combat ongoing staffing shortages.

CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo announcing the cancelations that the air carrier has been actively hiring new workers over the past year after more than 17,000 employees left the company in July 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

As of early June, Delta Airlines reported it had hired more than 15,000 workers in the last year but stated it was still not enough to meet the soaring travel demand.

In a statement about the delays and cancellations, Delta said: ‘All of our people, including our pilots, are working hard to restore our airline and deliver for our customers as we emerge from the pandemic. We are grateful and proud of their efforts.

‘We continuously evaluate our staffing models and plan ahead so that we can recover quickly when unforeseen circumstances arise, and the resilience of the Delta people is unmatched in that regard,’ it said in the statement to NBC News.

And International Air Transport Association Director General Willie Walsh told CNBC that the travel chaos is ‘isolated,’ noting that not every airport is experiencing problems.

Still, he admitted, the airline industry is ‘not out of the woods.’

‘Yes, we want to do better, and yes we will do better,’ Walsh said. ‘But I would strongly urge consumers looking at the opportunity to fly to reflect on the fact that this isn’t happening everywhere.

‘And in the vast, vast majority of cases, flights are operating on schedule, without disruption, without any problems at the airport, and I think you can look forward to enjoying the experience of flying again.’

Passengers lined up outside John F. Kennedy International Airport as massive delays and cancelations continued, with Delta canceling a number of its flights

Passengers lined up outside John F. Kennedy International Airport as massive delays and cancelations continued, with Delta canceling a number of its flights

ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Massive cancelations and delays continued on the first official day of summer Tuesday morning, with over 200 cancelations reported across the country

ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Massive cancelations and delays continued on the first official day of summer Tuesday morning, with over 200 cancelations reported across the country

ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Nearly 600 flights were delayed as of 9am EST within, into and out of the United States

ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Nearly 600 flights were delayed as of 9am EST within, into and out of the United States

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Demand for travel has surged to pre-pandemic levels, even as staffing remains low

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Demand for travel has surged to pre-pandemic levels, even as staffing remains low

But those who want to get away for the summer have reported long layovers and numerous cancelations. 

One Emergency Room nurse from Pittsburgh also said her trip home from Italy lasted about 60 hours, noting to WTAE: ‘There were no delays until I got into the States.’

Luray Hixson said she got stuck for nearly two days at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, explaining: ‘The flight itself was changed nine times, with the gates. 

‘There were other Pittsburghers around who were following,’ she said, and ‘we were moved from terminal to terminal, which these terminals were nowhere near each other; we had to take shuttles to get to these other places to get your flight.’

After her longest delay, which was a whopping 12 hours long, Hixson said her flight was ultimately canceled.

Fortunately, she said, her mother was willing to pick her up from the airport and drive her six hours to get home. 

Now, she says, she’s not sure if she will fly again in the near future, saying: ‘This is becoming the norm.’

The chaos has even affected Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg who was forced to drive from Washington D.C. to New York over the weekend – just one day after he told airline executives to clean up their act to avoid another flying catastrophe for the July 4 holiday.

The father-of-two has given airline executives a short two-week period to clean up the mess and guarantee travelers can enjoy a patriotic weekend and summer without the airport stress. 

He’s asked them to ‘stress-test’ operations ahead of the next big holiday – meaning travel firms could ultimately end up cutting more flights if they realize they’ll have insufficient resources to operate them.  

‘At the end of the day, they’ve got to deliver,’ Buttigieg told the Today Show. The Democrat met with top airlines executives on Thursday to warn them to avoid the Memorial Day disaster, where 2,700 flights were canceled. 

On Friday, Buttigieg tweeted: ‘Air travelers should be able to expect reliable service as demand returns to levels not seen since before the pandemic.

Luray Hixson, an ER nurse from Pittsburgh, said she got stuck for nearly two days at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport

Luray Hixson, an ER nurse from Pittsburgh, said she got stuck for nearly two days at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport

One of her flights was delayed 12 hours before it was finally canceled

One of her flights was delayed 12 hours before it was finally canceled

Airline executives around the world are now defending their operations amid the surge in demand.

On Tuesday, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby seemed to blame the airports for some of the problems, saying: ‘What we really want, at Newark Airport in particular, is to enforce the rules that limit the amount of flights to operations that the airport can theoretically handle.

‘But the other thing we need, they’re not the only ones, but what we really need is to get air traffic control towers back to full staffing.’

The Federal Aviation Administration has said it is working with airlines to shift air traffic control staff to in-demand locations, while also increasing usage of underutilized routes, according to the Washington Post.

Jason Reisinger, American Airlines managing director of global planning, also explained to WRAL that the entire industry is trying to adjust their schedules to accommodate the rising summer demand.

‘[We are] working schedules early on so … we have as few hiccups as we can on a given day,’ he said. 

‘Obviously, it is affecting service levels at American, but we’re working through it.’ 

And IATA Director General Willie Walsh told CNBC that the travel chaos is ‘isolated,’ noting that not every airport is experiencing problems.

Still, he admitted, the airline industry is ‘not out of the woods.’

‘Yes, we want to do better, and yes we will do better,’ Walsh said. ‘But I would strongly urge consumers looking at the opportunity to fly to reflect on the fact that this isn’t happening everywhere.

‘And in the vast, vast majority of cases, flights are operating on schedule, without disruption, without any problems at the airport, and I think you can look forward to enjoying the experience of flying again.’

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