Travelers deal with canceled, delayed flights amid airline staffing shortages

Flights canceled, delayed due to staffing
Posted at 9:32 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 23:21:53-05

TAMPA, Fla. — The air travel industry is rebounding from the pandemic at a faster rate than airlines can handle. Air travel carriers and airports are rushing to hire needed staff before the busy holiday flight schedule.

"All areas of the airport need somebody," said Emily Nipps, spokesperson for Tampa International Airport.

TPA hosted another hiring event, this week, to fill over 600 positions with the airport and its partners.

“We definitely need the staff to support all the travelers that are coming to the airport during the holidays and beyond," Nipps said.

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Tampa International Airport expects more than 80,000 daily passengers Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, soaring above TPA's traffic low at the height of the pandemic.

"We had less than 1,500 passengers a day coming through here," Nipps said.

Now, commercial flights are once again taking off. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's latest air travel report, operated domestic flights rose from February 2021 and hit this year's peak in July.

However, at the same time, more flights were canceled and delayed and they continue to be.

"As our travelers grow our needs are growing," Nipps said.

"It's been a challenge right after COVID, and it has been non-stop hiring," said Judy Reyes, hiring manager for Menzies Aviation.

Reyes and Menzies Aviation partner with airlines to find any and able workers. This week at TPA, she was tasked with bringing on 50 new staff members to step in and help with operations.

"Every position goes hand in hand," she said.

According to the August air travel report, 3.06 percent of U.S. flights were canceled compared to 1.09 percent in August 2020 and 1.66 percent in August 2019.

On-time arrivals also dropped about 18 percent over the past year with low fare flights from Spirit Airlines and Allegiant often the least reliable for cancellations and delays.

“We want to be able to handle every passenger that comes through and give them the best service and if we don’t have the staff it becomes a little bit more difficult," Reyes said.

"The biggest problem with the airlines right now is they’re trying to ramp up after the demand was so low for so long," said Don O'Neal, president of travel agency Travelworld.

Now more than ever, O'Neal said, he has to take cancellations into consideration when booking a client's travel plans.

"It has really been a lot worse," O'Neal said.

He said airlines fly their remote workers to hub airports to start their shifts, and if those flights are delayed the problems begin to snowball, flight schedules back up without sufficient staff ready to step in.

New hires need to be trained and returning furloughed workers need to be retrained. That is time airlines do not have and passengers cannot afford to lose with holiday travel right around the corner.

“I can’t stress enough…anybody that is flying over the holidays should really consider buying travel insurance," O'Neal said.

He said, especially before holiday travel plans, the best way to ensure a safe financial flight is to spend the extra $50 to $60 on travel insurance. However, if your flight is canceled or delayed by four hours or more, O'Neal said, the airline is required to repay you in some way.

"They will compensate you for the food you have to buy or the lodging. Or, if your bags don’t show up and you have to go buy some clothing they’ll reimburse you for that," O'Neal said. "The airlines are also responsible for re-booking people to get them to their final destination.”

That is easier if you are flying with a legacy carrier like American Airlines or United Airlines. O'Neal suggests walking up to a gate attendant and asking for a "Rule 240" to move you to another airline to get you to your final destination faster.

He said airlines also often offer passengers a future, one-time travel voucher to make up for the canceled flight.