Another Holiday, Another "Bad Weather" Excuse
Do You Believe The Airlines On Flight Cancellations?
Now that Saturday has become Sunday on this Fourth of July weekend, let us take stock of how badly the airlines have screwed the pooch, and how much worse things got after my brief article yesterday “Don’t Fly This Weekend.”
And they have gotten much worse.
First, The Numbers
Friday, July 1, was not a good day for air travel, according to travel information site FlightAware (archival link).
Total delays yesterday: 29,631
Total delays within, into, or out of the United States yesterday: 7,872
Total cancellations yesterday: 3,061
Total cancellations within, into, or out of the United States yesterday: 587
Saturday, July 2, was hardly any better. (archival link):
Total delays yesterday: 24,667
Total delays within, into, or out of the United States yesterday: 5,699
Total cancellations yesterday: 2,439
Total cancellations within, into, or out of the United States yesterday: 654
Sunday is not starting auspiciously:
Total delays today: 8,048
Total delays within, into, or out of the United States today: 388
Total cancellations today: 1,154
Total cancellations within, into, or out of the United States today: 184
Neither will Monday be off to a good start:
Total delays tomorrow: 188
Total delays within, into, or out of the United States tomorrow: 0
Total cancellations tomorrow: 571
Total cancellations within, into, or out of the United States tomorrow: 52
As bad as air travel is in the US, delays and cancellations are actually worse elsewhere.
The originating airport with the worst percentage of delayed flights on Friday: Charles De Gaulle (63%).
The originating airport with the worst absolute number of delayed flights on Friday: Amsterdam Schipul (537).
The originating airport with the worst percentage of cancelled flights on Friday: Zhanjiang, in China (54%).
The originating airport with the worst absolute number of cancelled flights on Friday: Shanghai Pudong International (91).
Not that American carriers aren’t having massive problems organizing flights. They are. Southwest Airlines had the largest absolute number of delay on Friday at 1307, while Delta and American Airlines took the number four and number six slots for most cancelled flights at 117 and 113, respectively.
Nor is the Fourth of July weekend unusual. Over the Juneteenth holiday weekend last month, over 14,000 domestic flights were delayed, with hundreds canceled.
Over the weekend, some 14,000 U.S. domestic flights were canceled or delayed, including 900 flights canceled on Sunday alone. As of 2:30 p.m. Pacific, just on Monday, there were an additional 14,550 delays and another 2,176 cancellations. In total, that left hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded or scrambling to get to their destinations.
Post-pandemic air travel is a hot mess to put it mildly.
Amazingly, the same reasons keep showing up for disrupted holiday travel: bad weather, plus not enough pilots and maintenance staff. Those were the reasons trundled out for delays in June.
A significant factor, beyond weather, was, is and remains the time of day-one travels, and lack of sufficient of staffing from pilots to agents, from mechanics to cleaning crews.
The FAA is blaming a tropical storm off the South Carolina coast for much of the East Coast’s travel disruptions this holiday weekend.
A tropical storm moving near the coast of South Carolina is affecting flights in the region, according to the Aviation Weather Center. The storm, Tropical Storm Colin, is expected to produce heavy rains along the Carolina coast, the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Northern Plains, according to the National Weather Service.
“Staffing shortages” are also being blamed for this weekend’s travel hiccups, particularly along the East Coast and in the New York area.
The area airports are getting slammed. Staffing shortages including pilots and air traffic control continue to complicate air travel as millions try to board planes this weekend.
Apparently, any time the US has a national holiday, the abilities of the airlines to manage their operations is the first thing to go on holiday.
An Added Bonus: Delta Pilots Are Picketing
Regardless of the actual causes for the flight delays and cancellations, they certainly are not helped by the decision of Delta Airlines’ pilots to picket Delta’s hubs in Atlanta and elsewhere this holiday weekend to protest the carrier’s scheduling inadequacies as well as protracted contract renegotiations.
In addition to seeking contractual improvements in pay, retirement and job protections, the union is also demanding changes to pilot schedules. In recent letters to Delta customers and the Delta Board of Directors, ALPA pointed out preventable management missteps that could have mitigated ongoing flight disruptions. “When delays or cancellations happen, the pilots share in our passengers’ frustration,” said Capt. Ambrosi. “As long-term stakeholders in our airline, seeing our operational reliability suffer is bad business and puts the Delta brand at risk.”
In June, the union took an unprecedented step in passing a vote of “no confidence” in the management teams of Flight Operations, Crew Resources, and Flight Training & Standards for the scheduling issues that continue to plague both customers and pilots. Delta cancelled more flights than any other major airline over the Memorial Day weekend. “We’re now going into the Independence Day Holiday weekend and are concerned that our customers’ plans will be disrupted once again,” said Capt. Ambrosi. “The perfect storm is occurring. Demand is back and pilots are flying record amounts of overtime but are still seeing our customers being stranded and their holiday plans ruined. Unfortunately, these problems have not led to any greater urgency from management to resolve our issues at the negotiating table.”
The Delta pilots are certainly correct on at least this much: air travel demand is increasing, as the global arrivals per day, according to FlightAware, illustrate:
Still, there is no avoiding the reality that pilots picketing are pilots not flying. Given that there are significant staffing shortages within the airline industry—particularly among pilots—a strike by Delta pilots can only make those shortages that much worse (and let us be realistic here: that is the reason for striking—to disrupt airline operations, albeit in a legal manner).
Pilots are well within their rights to call strikes and to peaceably protest Delta’s management decisions and contract negotiation choices. However, like all such actions by organized labor, some of the consequences of such peaceable protest are going to always be felt by those not directly involved in the conflicts at issue—in this case, the airline passenger.
Staffing Not A New Problem, So Why Isn’t It Fixed?
There is, however, a distinct problem with the logic of claiming a lack of pilots is contributing to flight delays and cancelations: the shortages have been around since at least the Pandemic Panic lockdowns. They are hardly a new challenge for the airlines.
The origins of the shortage began in the early days of the virus pandemic when pilot hiring, training, and licensing came to a stall. Then airlines forced thousands of pilots into early retirement to slash labor costs as travel demand cratered.
Some argue that the origins of the pilot shortage go all the way back to the post-9/11 period over 20 years ago.
But former airline pilot and CEO of the Richmond Executive Aviation Flight School (REA) Captain Mark Hackett says this problem was propagated after a reduction and pay and pensions industry-wide following 9/11.
“Pilot pay and benefits were reduced after 9/11. Pensions and 401k plans were disrupted during bankruptcy court. Pilot pay was actually cut in half as the airlines were struggling to survive, and it really diminished the pilot training pool from Sept. 11, 2001, onto today,” Hackett said.
According to airline analyses, the industry will be short 12,000 pilots by next year.
Yet while lack of available pilots limits the number of flights that can take place on any given day, every airline knows at least how many pilots it has available every day. From that data it is mathematically possible to determine how many flights can be reasonably scheduled each day. Even transient factors like sudden illness and flight delays for non-labor reasons can—and should—be incorporated into the scheduling process.
A shortage of pilots that is 20 years in the making can explain why airlines cannot offer enough flights to completely service travel demand. That same shortage cannot explain why airlines repeatedly find themselves without enough staff to fulfill their part of the travel obligation—actually flying the flights which are scheduled and for which tickets are sold.
A staffing shortage limits the number of flights that are possible. It does not cause random delays in the flights once they are scheduled—and this is what is being experienced by travelers this weekend.
Bad Weather? Seriously?
The accuracy of the claim that weather is forcing many if not most of these delays and cancellations also warrants more than a little skepticism.
Bad weather was also given as a cause for delays over the Juneteenth holiday.
Bad weather was also given as a cause for delays over Memorial Day Weekend.
While not impossible, for bad weather to repeatedly be the culprit causing major snarls and logjams in the nation’s air travel systems is a most extraordinary claim that warrants extremely close scrutiny.
At a minimum, it must be noted that, looking at FlightAware’s Misery Map, there did not appear to be a tremendous amount of bad weather throughout the day. Moreover, the routes with the worst and most frequent delays and/or cancellations do not appear to have significant weather formations.
There remains the possibility of weather events not tracked on the Misery Map, and so it would be inaccurate to claim the weather excuse as disproven. However, it would be equally inaccurate to accept the excuse for flight delays and cancellations of poor weather this Fourth of July weekend with any degree of credulity.
Could This Be Related To COVID-19 Or The Inoculations?
Many will also ask a question that truly does need to be asked and honestly answered: are the delays and cancellations in any way due to pilots becoming too sick to fly, either because of COVID-19 or because of the many toxicities associated with the mRNA inoculations intended to protect against COVID-19?
Certainly the media has not reported any significant outbreak of COVID-19 among airline pilots. While this by itself cannot eliminate the potential of COVID-19 as a cause for flight delays and cancellations, it is difficult to envision the corporate media overlooking a chance to push the Pandemic Panic Narrative, which an outbreak of COVID-19 among pilots certainly would be.
As for toxicities related to the inoculations, there again has been no media report of a rash of pilot illnesses causing this weekend’s flight disruptions. Still, the media accounts of pilots having serious health issues while in flight (and, more disturbingly, during landing) are something we cannot ignore. As Steve Kirsch has argued on his Substack, the risk of cardiac events from the inoculations is something that has been acknowledged even by the CDC.
It couldn't be more clear: the vaccine shots cause heart problems. It's so obvious that even the CDC admits it.
Regardless of how the corporate media explains this weekend’s flight delays and cancellations, one would be foolish not to at least raise the question about heart problems unexpectedly grounding various airline pilots at the last minute. It is at this juncture still pure speculation, but the lack of media reporting does no more to disprove this possibility than it does the possibility of COVID-19 itself grounding pilots. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
However, it must be emphasized that this possibility is for now complete speculation. There are no reported facts surrounding these cancellations which support the conclusion that COVID-19 and/or the mRNA inoculations are at issue here.
The Airlines Must Do Better
Yet what is not speculation is the conclusion that the airlines are being inexcusably incompetent in managing their flight schedules, staffing shortages or no staffing shortages. The responsibility the airlines accept for each of the tickets they sell is to get the passenger to their destination more or less in the time frame selected by the passenger. Delays and cancellations of this order of magnitude means the airlines are simply failing to meet their contractual obligations.
As a purely business proposition, that is unacceptable.
Even if one accepts the claim of a shortage of 12,000 qualified pilots, the airlines still know how many pilots they do have. They know how much flying each pilot can do per FAA regulations, and they know what pilots are certified to fly what aircraft.
Which means they know how many flights can be offered each day, regardless of whether that number matches current demand for flights or not.
It would be one thing if the challenge were merely the cost of a plane ticket risinig rapidly due to the pilot shortage—which has already been reported as happening. Such inflation is the inevitable market response to a scarcity of a particular good or service.
It is quite another for the airline to claim that it has the service available for sale—that it has the flights and the pilots to operate them—and then be forced to admit that it does not. As the airlines are not claiming COVID-19 or other illness causing a sudden shortfall of pilots, the pilot shortage under scrutiny here is an enduring one that can no longer be considered “unexpected.”
Ultimately, the airlines are selling tickets for flights they know—or should know—they cannot realistically provide in the agreed-upon time frame. They have been doing this repeatedly, even daily, to the extent that words like “fraud” are not inappropriate here.
Scheduling and coordinating flights nationwide as well as worldwide is no easy task. Logistics is a complex discipline requiring the consideration of a myriad of factors. Yet neither is the task unfathomable or impossible. Quite the contrary, it is quite doable.
More than that, it is required. It is the obligation every airline accepts every time a ticket is sold and a passenger booked.
To their shame, it is an obligation the airlines appear uninterested in fullfilling—at all.
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