(TND) — Air travelers could be in for a rough holiday if this year's trend of canceled or delayed fights continues.
That’s a concern of some, including pilots, but not a guarantee to happen. And airlines say they're working to alleviate the issues that have caused the flight disruptions.
“We have no reason to believe that there will be any change to the holiday travel season, particularly when weather hits, than we’ve seen all summer long, last summer, and during the previous holiday season,” said Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. “Why would you expect different results if your behavior is the same. That is the definition of insanity, and it is clearly the recipe for failure.”
His group’s chief concern is scheduling. With summer cancellations being blamed on staffing shortages, Tajer attributed that mostly to airline scheduling practices that he said overwork pilots and lack the flexibility to rework flights.
A government report, published last month, shows on-time arrivals dropped about 10% in the first half of the year for major carriers compared to the first half of 2021.
During the same period, flight cancellations at major carriers jumped from around 44,000 (1.6% of scheduled flights) during the first half of last year to about 112,000 cancellations (3.24%) during the first half of this year.
Laurie Garrow, president of AGIFORS, a nonprofit that conducts airline research, is more optimistic than Tajer that holiday travel will go smoothly.
“Many of the flight cancellations and delays that we saw this past summer in the U.S. were due to passengers coming back to the skies faster than we expected, and airlines working to get their aircraft, pilots, and flight attendants trained and back in service to meet that demand,” she said via email. “The FAA also experienced air traffic controller shortages this past summer. As we move into the holiday season, I would not expect as many flight delays or cancellations - at least for those travelling within the U.S. - in part because staffing levels are now much higher and we have more planes back in service. However, Europe is still experiencing staffing shortages at many of its airports, so I would expect to see more delays and cancellations there.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has expressed concerns about the flight disruptions, and the Department of Transportation recently launched a dashboard so fliers can see what airlines offer in the case of a “controllable” cancellation or delay. That wouldn’t include disruptions due to weather.
A spokeswoman for trade association Airlines for America said airlines have launched aggressive hiring campaigns and are trimming scheduled fall flights in an effort to "have a safe, seamless and positive travel experience."
"As our nation emerges from the pandemic, industries across the economy, as well as the federal government, are facing a range of challenges – including a tight labor market and increased absenteeism," Airlines for America spokeswoman Hannah Walden said via email. "The rebound in demand for air travel has been rapid—quicker than most industry experts and analysts ever predicted—and carriers are working aggressively to meet this demand."
Garrow expects a busy holiday season for air travelers.
“As busy as it was before COVID, particularly in the US,” she said.
She offered some tips for folks thinking about flying this holiday: