Summer getaway chaos continues as 500 flights a day are canceled

Americans who have waited more than a year to travel are having their summer vacations dampened before they begin by flight cancelations and delays caused by a shortage in pilots. 

Travel is on the up, with 9.8million Americans flying between July 2nd and July 6th – three times as many as in the same period last year. It was still 3million off the 12.5million who flew over the Fourth of July weekend in 2019. 

But since 2019, tens of thousands of pilots have been fired along with flight attendants and airport workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Pilots have also retired, but no new pilots have had enough training to replace them.

It has created a bottleneck scenario that is forcing airlines to scramble pilots from wherever they can. Often they can’t find any, and the flights are canceled. 

On Tuesday, 541 flights were canceled in, out and within America, which is 200 more per day than were being canceled on average between January and April, when fewer people were flying. 

They included  126 Southwest flights, 82 American Airlines flights, 77 United Airlines flights, 36 JetBlue flights, 27 Delta flights, 22 Frontier flights and  10 Spirit airlines flights. 

  • a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Travellers wait in line for immigration process ahead of the July 4th holiday, at the Newark Liberty International Airport, in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., July 2, 2021

  • chart

  • chart, bar chart: Travel is on the up, with 9.8million Americans flying between July 2nd and July 6th - three times as many as in the same period last year. It was still 3million off the 12.5million who flew over the Fourth of July weekend in 2019.


Southwests – 126 

American Airlines – 86 

United Airlines – 77 

JetBlue – 36

 Delta – 27

Frontier – 22

Spirit – 10   

It’s down to more flights being scheduled to meet passenger demand, without enough staff there to run them. Pilots say the problem lies with a lack of training. 

‘Many U.S. airlines are seeing increased flight demand and thanks to the Payroll Support Program, ALPA pilots are on the job and ready for takeoff.  

‘However, everyone has to do their part. Airline training departments must deal with increased flight schedules, and we believe that most should be able to predict and respond appropriately to retraining demands. 

‘As we were throughout the pandemic, ALPA is a willing partner and we are actively working with the airlines to ensure that the investments made in our industry help fuel the economic recovery, continue to produce an adequate supply of highly-trained pilots and keep flying safe,’ a spokesman for the Airline Pilots Association told 

Not every airline laid off staff in the pandemic. It was only American that furloughed pilots and they got rid of 1,600. 

All of those pilots need to be retrained before they can fly again and that could take months.

Captain Dennis Tajer, who has been an American pilot for more than 20 years, told last month: ‘It’s surreal. This time last year we were canceling flights because there weren’t enough passengers. 

‘Now we’re canceling flights because there aren’t enough pilots.’ 

 He is also the spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association – the union which represents American’s 15,000 pilots.

Tajer doesn’t believe that the shortages are down entirely to the COVID-19 furloughs, but says the airline is unwilling to work with the pilots to plug the holes. 

‘Instead of coming to us and working with us, they’ve just surrendered to reducing the schedule. 

‘There’s a scheduling problem in that pilots can’t accept overtime work legally without maxing out their flying hours.  

‘A lot of people who want to help aren’t provided the flexibility to help so it narrows the players to a very small margin.  

‘But this is the same issue as American was having in 2019- this is not specifically a COVID problem.

‘We firmly believe we could have sustained the schedule but they didn’t consult it. I don’t know if their plates were just too full or what,’ he said. 

American said all of its pilots would return to work by the end of July.  

‘The first thing AA did was furlough 1,600 pilots in October. No one else did that. 

‘Those pilots are still awaiting training and they won’t be ready to fly by the end of August. Legally, if you have had a break of three months you have to be trained up again. So the school house is at full tint. 

‘Then you have the 1,000 who took early retirement. They’ve got to fill those positions which takes months and months.  

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