Severe Staffing Shortages Result in Travel Chaos, Schedule Reductions for US Airlines

Crowded airport. Image courtesy of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Image: Sea-Tac International Airport.

Staff shortages, the challenges of resuming travel, growing traffic in the Spring Break season and some nasty weather that normally wouldn't have broken the system, all combined to create travel chaos in the U.S. in recent days.

Airlines were forced to cancel hundreds of flights over the weekend, and change their summer schedules, anticipating they can't operationally keep up with demand in the months ahead.

Over the weekend, social media was set afire by angry pax as U.S. carrier JetBlue Airways cancelled 18 per cent of its Saturday flights (09APR) and 13 per cent of Sunday flights (10APR), while Spirit Airlines canceled 14 per cent of its Saturday 09APR flights 13 per cent of its Sunday 10APR flights, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

The problems don't end there. JetBlue said it is cancelling 8 to 10 per cent of flights starting in MAY through summer 2022, citing severe weather and an "already challenging staffing situation," as some of the reasons for the cancellations, reports CNN. According to data from FlightAware, this will lead to one in every five JetBlue flights cancelled on Mondays.

"Given we anticipate continued industry challenges and heavy demand into the summer, we are planning more conservatively and trying to be proactive where we can with cancellations due to disruptive weather and air traffic control events," JetBlue said on 11APR.

The series of flight cancellations and delays put planes and flight crews out of their typical positions, worsening a staffing shortage, says USA Today. The airline has already hired 2,300 workers in 2022, but is still short, said JetBlue president Joanna Geraghty.

However, the airline is continuing to ramp up its efforts to hire additional staff. "While we believe [APR] will continue to be challenging, we are bringing on hundreds of new crew members each week as we prepare for summer travel," JetBlue said.

The shortage of pilots and crew is affecting other airlines as well, reports say. Alaska Airlines said last week it is "reducing about 2% of our total flights through the end of June to match our current pilot capacity."

Alaska pilots, along with those from Delta Air Lines, have also begun holding demonstrations at some major U.S. airports to protest against longer working hours due to the spike in travel demand, as well as for ongoing contract talks.

“Our pilots are working longer days and flying more and flights per day with shorter rests in between, and we’re tired,” said Evan Baach, spokesperson for the Delta chapter of Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). “We’re working a record amount of overtime to get our customers to their destinations safely and on time.”

“We are committed to venting [our] frustration with the company and sending a clear message to management that we’re tired and we’re fatigued…The company is flying more flights than they have pilots to staff, and during a bad weather day at a large hub, any kind of buffer has evaporated,” Baach added.

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