Flight cancellations decrease following the holiday weekend

Cancellations might become the new norm unless airlines can hire more workers

After a wild Fourth of July weekend that saw flight cancellations in the U.S. hitting 1,927 on Sunday, things seem to be slowing down but still a far cry from leaving travelers waiting on the tarmac for the next shoe to drop.

According to flight tracking site FlightAware, Monday’s cancellations showed 1,603 flights but that figure could change as the day progressed. From ConsumerAffairs’ experience with these situations, predicting what will happen on Wednesday or Thursday might be a little early, but there’s only 47 flights into, out of, or within the U.S. canceled for Wednesday and 10 for Thursday as of mid-morning Monday.

While a thousand-plus may seem like a significant number, when it’s compared to the total number of flights scheduled, it’s tiny percentage-wise. For example, American Airlines listed 47 canceled flights for Monday, but that only accounts for 1% of its scheduled departures. 

When that percentage climbs double digits, that's when the real fretting should begin. An example of that is for travelers who are flying overseas, particularly to Scandinavia. SAS Airlines – a carrier that serves New York, Miami, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles taking travelers to Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen – filed for bankruptcy early Tuesday, forcing 78% (236) of its flights to be taken off the board. FlightAware already has SAS penciled in for another 31% (98) of its scheduled flights to be canceled on Wednesday. 

Get used to it

While it’s no fun for any traveler to play this game, it’s something we might have to contend with for a while. Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot now working for FlightAware, said that cancellations continue to be expected because of the staffing situation.

"Weather has always impacted aviation, but the weather so far this summer hasn't been any worse than normal," Bangs told CNN. "When we see severe weather, it is taking airlines longer to scramble and recover. They don't have the deep bench of pilots to call in. It really seems to be more of a systemwide staffing issue, trickling down to the FAA in terms of [the] air traffic control system." In SAS' case, the airline pinned its bankruptcy directly on the pilots.

The unfortunate consequence of the pilot shortage-driven cancellation flurry is that travelers sometimes find themselves put out – completely put out.

“United does not understand that they are not just flying planes, they are transporting PEOPLE. People is a word that United Airlines does not know,” wrote Edgar of Pittsburgh in a recent review he submitted to ConsumerAffairs.

Edgar said the thing that bugged him most about his United nightmare was that the airline waited until “the last minute” to let people know their flight was canceled. “It took me and my wife two hours standing in the check-in counter … until they could figure out what was happening. The United representative was unbelievably rude and unprofessional … laughing at us when we asked [for] a printed hotel confirmation, since we did not have internet access in our phones. It was a very humiliating situation.”

Looking to protect what matters most? Get matched with your best security system.