Staffing shortages, weather issues, and maintenance problems led American Airlines to cancel hundreds of flights over the weekend as the company deals with a huge uptick in demand this summer.
According to the flight-tracking site Flight Aware, the airline canceled 123 flights Saturday, 190 flights Sunday, and 106 on Monday. The airline told CNBC those numbers represent about 3 percent of its total flights, including those operated by regional partners.
American said it expects to cancel about 1 percent of its flights through mid-July — or 50 to 80 per day — as it attempts to get back to full speed coming out of the pandemic.
“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,” Shannon Gilson, an American Airlines spokesperson, told CNN.
“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 operations by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July,” Gilson said.
American Airlines spokesperson Sarah Jantz told CNBC that bad weather has impacted the ability of crews to get to assigned flights. It has also delayed flights which has meant some crew members fell outside of the hours they are allowed to work due to federal mandates.
But the union representing American’s 15,000 pilots said other solutions are available, including authorizing overtime in advance and increasing flexibility in scheduling of pilots to allow for shortages.
“They’re trying to put a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches,” said Dennis Tejar, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association.
Customers who have booked flights on American through July 15 will be notified or have already been told of cancellations so that they can make adjustments to their plans, Gilson said.
The airline has attempted to cancel flights in locations where alternate flights are available, she added.
American and other major airlines are dealing with the sudden demand for flights now that summer has arrived and vaccines have been administered to a majority of adults. The Transportation Security Administration said nearly 50 million passengers were registered in May, up 19 percent from April. In the first half of June, TSA has registered nearly 35 million passengers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the ramp-up of passengers also comes with the need for a lot more customer service. Julie Rath, American’s vice president of customer service and reservations, said passengers are needing more help navigating new rules, figuring out travel vouchers from flights canceled during the pandemic, and other issues new to post-pandemic travel. This leads to longer calls to make reservations and longer lines at airports.
In addition, Rath said, about one-fourth of the reservations staff retired or took unpaid time off last year, resulting in a staffing shortage now.
“We knew it would come back and come back quickly,” Rath said. “But it’s even quicker than we expected.”
It’s the same story for TSA screeners, baggage handlers, and other workers at airports, where most employers are scrambling to hire as quickly as possible. James Wajda, COO for Prospect Airport Services, which provides wheelchairs pushers and baggage handlers for 34 airports across the country, has increased pay and offered bonuses to try to get more workers in the fold.
“We’re at a crisis point,” Wajda said.