U.S. air travel snarled by staff shortages, bad weather

Schools across the United States are letting out for summer break, many Americans have waited years to finally resume traveling, now airlines are facing dire staffing shortages of pilots and crews, and, of course, bad weather happens. All this has been creating a perfect storm for the kind of spiraling dominos of flight delays and cancellations happening in recent days.

Airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights across the country on Thursday and more than a third of all flights leaving LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty Airport, according to FlightAware.com. Those cancellations and delays extended into Friday — more than 20% of departing flights were either canceled or delayed.

Delta Air Lines pilots wrote an open letter to customers detailing the industry's pilot shortage, which has put them on pace to fly more overtime hours this year than in all of 2018 and 2019 combined.

However, Delta, which canceled the most flights over the Memorial Day stretch, said it has hired more pilots and flight attendants and has scheduled crews to adjust more quickly to weather disruptions.

"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 for and proud of their efforts," Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant said in a statement emailed to FOX 5 NY. "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. Pilot schedules remain in line with all requirements set by the FAA as well as those outlined in our pilot contract."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg held a virtual meeting with airline CEOs on Thursday to go over steps the airlines are taking to operate smoothly over the July 4 holiday and the rest of the summer. He also pushed the airlines to improve how they help and accommodate passengers who get stranded when flights are canceled.

So far in June, more than 2.2 million travelers a day on average have gone through security checkpoints at U.S. airports, which is about 22% higher than the same time in 2021 but still down about 13% from the same period before the pandemic

Ahead of Memorial Day, the Transportation Security Administration started recruiting more airport security officers to handle the increasing travel volume. TSA was anticipating that passenger volumes this summer could "match and may occasionally exceed those of 2019 for the first time since the pandemic began," the agency said.

"Our airport security checkpoints include 47,500 highly-trained security professionals and new technologies that enhance security and reduce physical contact," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement in May. "We continue to recruit, retain, train and equip a highly-skilled workforce, and we work continuously with our airport and airline partners to anticipate and prepare for higher traffic patterns."

With FOX 5 NY's Mac King and The Associated Press.