Airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights in the United States on Thursday, one of the worst days so far for travel as the high season during the summer holidays heats up.
At New York’s LaGuardia Airport, more than a third of all flights were scrubbed, and more than a quarter of flights were dropped off at nearby Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, according to tracking service FlightAware.
The cancellations came less than three weeks after the airlines started the summer travel season by canceling around 2,800 flights over a five-day stretch around the Memorial Day weekend.
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And they did so when airlines held a virtual meeting with Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg – a sign of the Biden administration’s concern about the prospects for congested airports and unhappy travelers this summer.
“I let them know that this is a moment when we really expect them to deliver reliably to the traveling public,” Buttigieg said. NBC News.
During the video conference, Buttigieg asked CEOs to describe the steps they take to work smoothly during the July 4 holidays and the rest of the summer, according to a person familiar with the conversation but not authorized. to discuss it in public. .
Buttigieg also pressured the airlines to investigate whether they can handle the schedules they have published, and to improve customer service, the person said.
The head of the Airlines for America trade group, Nicholas Calio, said in a statement that industry officials appreciated the opportunity to speak with Buttigieg and “discuss our common commitment to prioritize the safety and security of all travelers.”
Airlines are struggling with a shortage of workers, especially pilots, who are hampering their ability to operate all scheduled flights. Pilot associations at Delta, American and Southwest have said their airlines were too slow to replace pilots who withdrew or took leave during the early part of the pandemic.
Two Senate Democrats said this month that the show this weekend “raises questions about airlines’ decision-making.” Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts said that delays and cancellations “occur so often that they are becoming an almost expected part of the journey.”
The airlines blame the bad weather and the Federal Aviation Administration, part of the Department of Transportation that manages the country’s airspace. In a letter to senators, Calio crossed off a long list of FAA delays and staffing issues over the holiday weekend.
Airlines have struggled with the FAA this spring due to delays in Florida, where air traffic recovered faster than in many other parts of the country. After meeting with airline representatives in May, the FAA agreed to increase staffing at an air traffic control center near Jacksonville and make other changes.
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Concerns about aviation problems come as the number of air travelers in the United States increases over 2.2 million a day. There are still about 300,000 fewer per day than in mid-June 2019, but the crowds will grow over the next few weeks and almost certainly break the record from the pandemic that was set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.
Bottlenecks can appear at gateway airports where travelers enter the United States. Last weekend, the Biden administration dropped a 16-month requirement that people test negative for Covid-19 before boarding a flight to the United States. This decision is expected to increase international travel – United Airlines said on Monday that they saw an immediate increase in searches for foreign flights.
Another threat: The FAA is urging airlines to quickly upgrade equipment that may be vulnerable to radio interference from new wireless services. The agency’s acting administrator, Billy Nolen, told the airlines on Wednesday that Verizon and AT&T plan to turn on hundreds of 5G C-band transmitters near airports on July 5.
Creepy forecasts of downtime from the wireless companies’ first C-band service failed to come true early this year. Nevertheless, Nolen said that the FAA can not promise that there will be no problems with any aircraft. He said industry officials have found a way to retrofit many aircraft with problematic equipment by the end of the year and others by 2023.
The shares of the six largest American airlines fell between 6 percent and 9 percent on Thursday, when unrest about the economy caused the wider market to fall.