Travel for the 4th of August holiday weekend is picking up speed and things are already getting messy.
More than 550 flights in the United States had been canceled as of 8:40 p.m. ET Friday, with nearly 6,500 delays, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.
This weekend could be the biggest air travel weekend for the United States in years. Delta Air Lines expects customer volumes it has “not seen since before the pandemic” through July 4.
The weather is part of the problem.
The FAA said Friday morning that thunderstorms were possible Friday in parts of the South, Southwest, Southeast, Northeast and Midwest.
Weather conditions could cause delays in Florida, New York and Washington, DC, the FAA said, as well as Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
So far this year, US airlines have canceled 3.5% of flights, a 42% increase from 2019, according to Department of Transportation data.
Last weekend (June 24-26), airlines canceled 2,200 flights in the United States. The previous weekend there were about 3,200, according to FlightAware.
Take on the challenge
Airline industry representatives had a call Thursday with the FAA to plan for possible weather disruptions over the July 4 weekend.
“America’s airlines are always striving to provide a seamless travel experience and are doing everything possible – including reducing schedules – to ensure a seamless journey,” said Airlines for America (A4A), an industry group representing major US carriers, in a statement. after the call with the FAA.
A4A said its members were working to hire employees in many roles – from pilots to gate agents – to address staffing shortages.
Furloughed Delta pilots have been picketing major hubs this week over schedules and wages, but the protests are not expected to affect operations.
Airlines have said some air traffic disruptions this summer are due to shortages of air traffic controllers.
But Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the department “relies on airlines to deliver passengers and to be able to manage the tickets they sell”.
“Let’s be very clear, the majority of delays and the majority of cancellations were not caused by air traffic control personnel issues,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Pete Muntean. “The bottom line here is that the airlines selling these tickets must have the crews and staff to support these sales.”
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a note to customers this week that the airline is facing an environment “unlike anything we’ve ever experienced” and is taking a number of steps to deliver more. flexibility to customers. Bastian said Delta will even bring employees from its airport offices to help in Atlanta and New York.
The movements come as the number of travelers increases. The number of passengers screened at US airports hit a new pandemic-era high on Sunday, June 26.
The Transportation Security Administration says 2,462,097 people passed through its checkpoints that day, the most since February 2020 before travel demand cratered during the pandemic. The number of passengers on Thursday June 30 – 2,444,471 – was just short of the record.
“I think staffing is always a challenge for everyone,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN.
“But for us, it’s not an issue that will impact wait times for travellers,” he said.
More people than ever will travel by car
Although many air travelers are likely to experience delays, the share of air travelers departing this holiday weekend is actually lower than it has been in a long time.
AAA said the 3.55 million people expected to take flight on Independence Day represent just 7% of travelers. That’s the lowest share since 2011, when the economy was still rebuilding after the Great Recession.
The number of air travelers – 3.55 million – is up 1.5% from 2021 but down 9.3% from 2019 before the pandemic.
The auto and travel planning group’s annual forecast for the July 4 holiday weekend indicates that 42 million Americans – more than ever – will take a road trip of 50 miles or more.
That’s despite gasoline prices hitting a record high earlier this month.