MINNEAPOLIS — If last weekend was any indication, prepare for a tumultuous summer season.
Thousands of flights were canceled from Thursday and thousands more were delayed.
Why is the airline industry in trouble? How long will it be like this? Good question. Our Jeff Wagner has some tips to prepare you for potential problems.
Stress and air travel go hand in hand.
“I ended up having to stay last night in the [Washington] DC Airport. It took me about three or four flights before I could finally catch one,” traveler Evan Eustachy said at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“They just said ‘Delayed.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s so early, how delayed?'” traveler Adrena Taylor said. “
Their stories are just two of many that weathered an onslaught of trouble over the weekend.
At least 14,000 flights have been delayed or canceled as of Thursday. Delta Airlines issued this statement: “A variety of factors continue to impact our operations, including air traffic control challenges, weather conditions and unplanned absences from certain work groups. The cancellation of ‘a flight is always our last resort, and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience to their travel plans.’
David Dague, an aviation expert for Arthur D. Little with 30 years of experience in the industry, acknowledged the weather was a factor in the problems this weekend.
“We have pent-up demand and we don’t have a lot of supply,” Dague said.
The demand is everyone keen to travel this summer. According to the TSA, more than 2.4 million people traveled through the skies on June 17, a number not seen since February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The supply would be workers, especially pilots.
What caused the pilot shortage?
“The pilot shortage had been looming in the background for several years, even before COVID,” Dague said.
When the pandemic started, airlines offered buyout packages for older pilots. More continue to retire, outpacing new recruits.
“They’re really saying the system needs about 10,000 new pilots a year, and we’re about halfway there,” Dague said.
The FAA requires pilots to retire at age 65. Dague said there is now talk of raising the age to 67 to stem the shortage.
Pilot training also takes a considerable amount of time. Pilots need 1,500 flight hours before being allowed to operate commercial flights.
“You could go to a four-year school and get flight training while graduating from college and you could get 300 hours,” Dague said.
From gate agents to air traffic controllers, every corner of an airport needs workers, which has led to further delays and problems. People falling ill with COVID-19 continue to cause temporary shortages.
How can travelers prepare? Dague said booking the earliest flight helps avoid delays, such as afternoon storms. It also saves you time in case of delays or cancellations, so you don’t get stuck in an airport overnight.
If you can, choose nonstop flights. Connecting flights create more opportunities for disruption. Finally, arrive early. This way, in the event of a cancellation, you will be one of the first passengers to be able to find a new flight.
Dague said delays and cancellations will persist this summer. The shortage of pilots, however, could last for years.