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Delays and cancellations continue as demand soars for air travel

Travel
Posted at 5:28 PM, Jun 30, 2021

TAMPA, Fla — It seems travel is on the brain right now for many folks eager to make up for the time they lost in 2020.

“The flight was pretty packed when we got on it, to full capacity, but that didn’t cause any delays,” said Lester Shannon, who is traveling with his family from Houston.

“Flying from Newark, it was pretty crowded,” said Gabriella Micciche. “I flew in from Newark and then here it’s been pretty much easier and a lot quicker.”

AAA estimates that about 3.5 million people will hop in a plane this weekend, reaching about 90% of pre-pandemic levels. But not everyone is having a turbulence-free time.

“We got to the airport this morning about six, and we’re going to be out of here around 8:30 tonight. I am in this cold ice-box of an airport for 12 hours,” said Forbes Welch, who is flying to St. Croix with his family.

Welch admits he didn’t check his e-mail and missed the flight change. He said Tuesday’s bad weather caused the hold-up.

“When we got to the counter, it says oh your flight was canceled you didn’t get the email? Well, we got up at 4:30, we didn’t check any email,” Welch said.

But employee shortages across the board from flight attendants, pilots, baggage handlers, and aircraft mechanics are also feeding delays and cancellations. People on social media aren’t shy about announcing it.

“I think they’re selling too many seats without enough people to work,” said Gary Peterson, the air division director for the Transport Workers Union of America.

Peterson does think the airlines are aware of the problem and working to correct it. He said many of the senior employees took early outs when the pandemic hit and getting folks hired and credentialed can take months.

“It’s not the people at the airport that you need to be mad at, it’s the executives at the airlines,” he said. “They are the ones that make the decisions that put us in the positions we’re in.”

But he said angry passengers are aiming their frustrations at employees and he believes that’s deterring current employees from sticking around.

“When a flight attendant sees a video of somebody else being punched in the mouth and losing their teeth; they start to question whether that’s the business they want to be in,” said Peterson.

ABC Action News' Heather Leigh reached out to Southwest, United, Delta, and American Airlines for comment.

Southwest told us summer storms are causing delays, but that their summer schedule is aligned with their staffing plan.

In a letter we obtained from United, they said they’re not dealing with problems other carriers are having. They said, “The truth is that our situation is different primarily because we have been planning for this moment for more than a year."

United Airlines Letter by ABC Action News on Scribd

American Airlines responded:

Summer marks our peak travel season as an airline. This July, American will operate up to 35 peak day departures from TPA from TPA to eight markets (CLT, DFW, MIA, PHL, PHX, ORD, DCA and AUS). Looking to the July 4th holiday weekend, American is expecting the highest volume of customers to travel through TPA than at any point since the pandemic began. A few highlights:

  • More than 25,000 customers are expected to depart on flights from TPA between Thursday, July 1 and Monday, July 5.
  • Peak travel days are expected to be Thursday, July 1 and Friday, July 2.
  • Across the system, American is scheduled to operate an average of nearly 5,500 daily flights during the July 4th holiday weekend (Thursday – Monday), with the busiest travel days on Thursday and Friday with more than 5,900 daily flights scheduled.
    • For comparison, in 2020 we operated an average of nearly 2,300 flights per day during the July 4th holiday weekend (Thursday – Monday). In 2019, we operated an average of more than 6,000 flights during July 4th holiday week (Monday – Friday; the holiday fell on Thursday).
  • Later this year, American will add twice daily service from TPA to Nashville (BNA) and Raleigh-Durham (RDU) as well as once daily service to Los Angeles (LAX). By November 2021, American will operate 41 peak day departures from TPA to a total of 11 markets—an increase of 6 daily departures and a 26% increase in seat capacity at TPA versus November 2019.

What you’ve likely heard is that American has made proactive adjustments through the first-half of July to add additional resiliency to our operation. Over the past month, American, has ramped up quickly to meet the surge in demand for air travel this summer. Compounding this, we’ve seen unprecedented weather at our major hubs this summer. As a result, we’re building in additional certainty to our operation by proactively adjusting some of our scheduled flying through mid-July. We made these changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options to rebook on other flights.

Looking forward, the adjustments we’re making systemwide account for about 1% of our daily global operation through the first-half of July—or roughly 72 of our 5,674 average daily departures. At TPA, proactive adjustments have reduced our schedule by an average of one flight per day from July 2-14. Of note:

  • Future reductions have already been implemented.
  • Customers on impacted flights have been notified and proactively rebooked on other flights that most closely align with their planned itinerary.
  • Additionally, customers can contact our reservations team to adjust travel without incurring change fees should their plans change.
  • Should customers be rebooked on a flight more than four hours from their original departure time, American will provide a full refund for travel.

Our current statement is below, along with some additional context and background information.

American Airlines Statement
“The first few weeks of June have brought unprecedented weather to our largest hubs, heavily impacting our operation and causing delays, canceled flights and disruptions to crew member schedules and our customers’ plans. That, combined with the labor shortages some of our vendors are contending with and the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand, has led us to build in additional resilience and certainty to our operation by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July. We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation.

“Our focus this summer — and always — is on delivering for our customers no matter the circumstance. We never want to disappoint and feel these schedule adjustments will help ensure we can take good care of our customers and team members and minimize surprises at the airport.”