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Air travel is expected to rebound this summer. Here’s why that’s a problem for Logan.

More passengers and fewer planes could make for a turbulent summer travel season

Beating the travel rush
Business reporter Diti Kohli gives tips on how to beat the summer travel rush.

A bundle of troubles — more passengers, fewer planes, and widespread labor shortages among them — could lead to another “summer of discontent” at Logan Airport, experts say, raising the prospect that the busy travel season may be once again marked by chaos and confusion.

It’s “a recovering system under peak period stress,” said aviation analyst Robert Mann.

His prediction? “Delays persist. Cancellations persist. The excess costs persist. The excess customer dissatisfaction persists, and airlines just trade customers back and forth.”

That isn’t a cheery outlook for New Englanders, who were roiled by a flurry of issues at Logan last summer. The airport saw hiccups with air traffic control, weather, and pilot shortages cascade into thousands of cancellations on major travel weekends — think Memorial Day and Fourth of July. It narrowly missed the list of 10 airports with the most delays in 2022, coming in at number 11 with 21 percent of all domestic flights departing behind schedule.

This summer, similar problems are simmering toward a boil.


On Monday, the Biden administration announced it will seek to require airlines to provide compensation and pay out-of-pocket costs such as hotel rooms and meals when passengers are stranded because of staffing, mechanical issues and other delays due to issues within an airline’s control.

But the concerns still remain.

Chief among them is demand. Despite persistently pricey flight tickets, monthly passenger volume on US airlines at the end of last year was just below 2019 numbers, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And David Pekoske, who heads up the Transportation Security Administration, said last week that the number of travelers will be “comfortably above” pre-pandemic levels soon, fueled by an enduring desire to “revenge travel.”

That increase is already apparent at Logan, which saw double-digit percentage growth in passengers in February and March compared with the same months last year, according to data from Massport, which runs Logan.


Delta Air Lines jets on the tarmac at Boston's Logan Airport on Jan. 11, 2023. VANESSA LEROY/NYT

Jennifer B. Mehigan, a spokesperson for Massport, said that should be a warning to people to arrive early and in high-occupancy vehicles, such as the MBTA, water ferry, private bus or Logan Express.

“It will be essential that passengers plan ahead and give themselves extra time,” especially considering the closure of the Sumner Tunnel from July 5 through Aug. 31.

Another concern? Airlines are running fewer flights.

JetBlue, the largest airline at Logan, cut service by 8 to 10 percent for the season starting in May, multiple outlets reported. (Spokesperson Derek Dombrowski said the move was prompted by a directive from the Federal Aviation Administration to roll back flights because of a shortage of air traffic controllers in New York and “promote a better experience for our customers.”)

Delta is also reducing its summer schedule by 6,000 flights nationwide and reducing frequency between Logan and four major markets this summer, spokesperson Drake Castaneda said in an e-mail. Those include Nashville, Atlanta, and both major New York City airports.

Ryan Hassett, a transportation economist at the Institute for Transportation Research and Education, said the cutbacks are primarily a consequence of a dearth of both planes and pilots. Many airlines put larger but less efficient aircraft into storage — or retirement — during the pandemic. And airplane manufacturers can’t build new ones fast enough.

The consequences are now playing out, Hassett added.


“They’re in a situation where they don’t have as many planes as they did before. They don’t have as many people to fly the planes as before, and they’re having maintenance issues as well, since newer models [of planes] have more advanced designs.”

In March, the Federal Aviation Administration also announced that airlines will be able to leave up to 10 percent of their assigned slots unused through the summer at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York and Washington National, because of staffing bottlenecks at air traffic control.

A traveler pulls their luggage between terminals at Logan International Airport on Jan. 11, 2023 in Boston.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Even though that requirement does not extend to Logan Airport, Hassett said, it could very well hurt Boston passengers. Several local flights pass through New York City airspace, or have come through there earlier in the day.

Certain airlines are also looking to combat the problem by “densifying” bigger planes — an emerging strategy to add seats to functional planes in the effort to make up for those that have been grounded. That may entail squeezing in extra rows to accommodate more passengers, said Mann, the aviation analyst.

“What they’re hoping is to fly the same number of seats in 2019, but on fewer planes,” he added.

Aside from the planes themselves, airlines are facing labor shortages at every step. Flight attendant and maintenance crews are understaffed, and pilots are in high demand after the profession saw thousands of people retire earlier in the pandemic.

Delta may be better equipped than most competitors this summer, since the union representing 15,000 pilots recently reached a new contract providing a 34 percent raise over four years and other protections. By contrast, United Airlines anticipated in March that major carriers will have demand for 10,000 new pilots this year alone, but that only about 6,600 qualified candidates will be available.


Jonathan Correa, a Boston representative for the Transport Workers Union, said an extreme shortage of employees, including behind-the-scenes workers such as baggage handlers and ground operations, remains. “But this is big ramp-up moment,” he added.

Several classes of flight attendants are set to complete training soon, and airlines are actively hiring for pilots.

Another upside is that the airport itself may be better equipped with concession and food service workers than last year. Around 400 employees at six Logan Airport vendors ratified a new contract in December that includes increased overtime pay and provisions for part-time scheduling as needed — details that will be especially relevant in the coming months, a spokesperson for UNITE HERE Local 26 said.

“On the labor front, there is an honest effort to fix the issues,” Correa added. “That said, there are a lot of variables that could impact how this summer goes.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at her @ditikohli_.