US airlines canceled high numbers of flights for a second straight day on Friday as they tried to recover from storms while accommodating growing crowds of summer vacationers.
By midmorning in the eastern US, airlines has scrubbed more than 1,000 flights after canceling more than 1,700 on Thursday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
Airports with the most cancellations those in Charlotte, North Carolina, a major hub for American Airlines, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty in the New York City area, and Reagan Washington National outside Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg held a virtual meeting with airline CEOs to go over steps the airlines are taking to operate smoothly over the July 4 holiday and the rest of the summer, and to improve accommodation of passengers who get stranded when flights are canceled.
“I let them know that this is a moment when we are really counting on them to deliver reliably for the traveling public,” Buttigieg told NBC News.
Buttigieg also pushed airlines to examine whether they can handle the schedules that they have published, and to improve customer service, the person said.
Airlines are struggling with shortages of workers, especially pilots, that are hurting their ability to operate all their planned flights. Pilot unions at Delta, American and Southwest have said their airlines were too slow to replace pilots who retired or took leaves of absence during the early part of the pandemic.
Two Senate Democrats said this month that the Memorial Day holiday weekend performance “raises questions about airline decision-making.” Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts said delays and cancellations “are occurring so frequently that they are becoming an almost-expected part of travel.”
The airlines blame bad weather and the Federal Aviation Administration, an arm of the Transportation Department that manages the nation’s airspace. In a letter to the senators, Calio ticked off a long list of FAA delays and staffing problems over the holiday weekend.
The airlines have jousted with the FAA this spring over delays in Florida, where air travel recovered more quickly 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.
So far in June, more than 2.2 million travelers a day on average have gone through security checkpoints at U.S. airports. That’s down 13% from the same period before the pandemic. About 2,800 flights were cancelled around Memorial Day weekend in a five-day strength.
Going forward, bottlenecks could pop up 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 US. That decision is expected to boost international travel — United Airlines said Monday that it saw an immediate increase in searches for overseas flights.
Another threat: The FAA is urging airlines to quickly upgrade equipment that might be vulnerable to radio interference from new wireless service. The agency’s acting administrator, Billy Nolen, told airlines Wednesday that Verizon and AT&T plan to turn on hundreds of 5G C-band transmitters near airports on July 5.
Dire forecasts of fallout from the wireless companies’ initial C-band service failed to come true early this year. Still, Nolen said FAA can’t promise that there won’t be problems with some planes. He said industry officials have found a way to retrofit many planes with problematic gear by the end of the year and others in 2023.
Shares of the largest six US airlines dropped between 6% and 9% on Thursday, as jitters about the economy sent the broader market tumbling.