More people flew from airports in the United States on Sunday – according to 2.46 million to the Transportation Security Administration — than on any other day so far this year. The 4th of July holiday is expected to get even busier, with Hopper, a travel booking app that predicts nearly 13 million passengers will fly to, from and within the United States this weekend.
The question for many travelers is whether they can trust airlines to get them where they want to go on time.
You can’t blame them for assuming the answer is no. According to FlightAware, a flight-tracking company, nearly a third of flights arrived late on June 17, the Friday before the holiday of Monday, June 14. Between last Saturday and Monday prior to the weekend of July 4, U.S. carriers already almost 2500 flights cancelled† At a meeting on June 16, Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, told airlines that he to be monitor their performance closely. The next day, its own flight from Washington to New York got cancelled†
In a letter on tuesdaySenator Bernie Sanders urged Mr. Buttigieg to start fining airlines for particularly egregious cancellations and delays. Among other things, he suggested that airlines should pay $55,000 per passenger for each canceled flight that it was clear in advance that they could not staff.
Before putting off an upcoming trip, though, it’s worth taking a closer look at cancellation and delay data to understand how travel has and hasn’t changed this year.
Percentage of cancellations so far this year versus a comparable time in 2019: 2.8 percent versus 2.1 percent.
Lesson: The idea that air travel was so much better before the pandemic may be clouded by nostalgia for Before Times.
Social media is full of statements that air travel is the worst it’s ever been. Indeed, on some holiday weekends and stormy weeks, it was astonishingly bad. Like Mr Sanders noted in his letter, airlines canceled flights four times more often during busy weekends than in 2019. But the reality is that the airline’s reliability was pretty terrible even before the pandemic.
US airlines have operated between 21,000 and 25,000 flights per day in recent months. So far, in 2022, an average of one in five flights per day arrived behind schedule — a total of more than 820,000 delayed flights, according to FlightAware. More than 116,000 flights have been cancelled. All of this leads to tens of thousands of people missing weddings, funerals and work events and struggling to save vacations. But in 2019 in a comparable period it was not that much better. At the time, 17 percent – instead of 20 percent – were late and the average delay was 48 minutes instead of 49 minutes.
“I think the reason people notice it so much more is because it’s clustered during these holiday periods,” said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial pilot who is now a spokeswoman for FlightAware.
While holiday weekends have always been a bit of a gamble, crew staffing problems exacerbated by overambitious schedules means there’s now less slack in the system, said Bob Mann, a longtime airline executive who now runs RW Mann & Company, an aviation consulting firm. The weather that may have canceled a dozen flights at a few airports is now more likely to have a much more dramatic ripple effect, with thousands of flights canceled at dozens of airports. This is especially true for low-cost carriers like JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, which canceled a whopping 10.3 percent and 9 percent of flights in April. according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics†
That same month, JetBlue announced that it would cancel eight to ten percent of flights for the rest of the summer.
“I’ve never seen a 10 percent number before,” said Mr Mann of the early cancellations for a peak travel period.
If you want to build in protection in case your flight gets canceled, never book the last flight of the day, advised Shawn Pruchnicki, a former pilot and professor of aviation safety at Ohio State University.
Least reliable airports: Newark, LaGuardia and Orlando
Lesson: Big hubs were always nightmares, especially on busy weekends. Changing travel patterns and air traffic control staffing problems have exacerbated them.
According to FlightAware data, two airports in the New York area, Newark Liberty International and LaGuardia, have had the most cancellations in the United States so far this year — about 6 percent of total flights. In terms of delays, Newark was also one of the two most aggravating airports to fly from, with people arriving late to their destinations nearly 30 percent of the time. Only Orlando International had a comparable percentage of delayed flights.
In general, flying out of Florida was tough. More than one in four flights at airports in Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa have been delayed so far this year. According to FlightAware data, only flights from Dallas Love Field and Chicago Midway airports arrived late at relatively low fares.
Neither region can fully attribute the lack of reliability to coronavirus-related issues. But each has gotten worse for reasons related to the pandemic, aviation experts say.
Airports in travel hubs like New York City have long had more cancellations and delays than other airports, said Dr. Pruchnicki. That’s partly because of the design. If airlines have to cancel flights, they will use one from New York as a sacrificial lamb “because it gives them more options to reroute passengers,” he said.
New York City has also long been vulnerable to delays as air traffic controllers have to choreograph activities for numerous airports within 50 miles of each other. “It’s a spaghetti ball of flies,” said Mr Mann, the airline’s former president.
According to United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, there haven’t been enough air traffic controllers to manage the spaghetti lately.
“They’re doing everything they can, but like many in the economy, they’re understaffed,” Kirby told Bloomberg. last week. In an internal memo, United outlined plans to temporarily suspend 50 flights from Newark on July 1 to “keep flights on time”.
In Florida, the crux of the problem, several analysts said, is the state’s huge popularity as a vacation and relocation destination. Airlines have responded by increasing the number of flights. But when thunderstorms hit — as they often do in Florida — because air traffic control in the area is already pushed to its limits, it’s harder for airlines to get back on track than before, said Kenneth Byrnes, the president of the United Nations. flight department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
That said, avoiding hubs may not be the way to go, some analysts said, because if your flight gets canceled, hubs offer more options for rebooking.
The most delayed major airline in recent months: JetBlue
Lesson: Paying more for a ticket on an airline with a better track record on time can be worth it for short trips.
In the past three months, JetBlue, Allegiant Air and Frontier arrived late a third of the time, with average delays of nearly an hour, according to FlightAware data. The three low-cost carriers also had the most delays in 2021, according to the annual Airline Quality Rating Report. an analysis from Department of Transportation data published by Wichita State University in Wichita, Kan.
During the pandemic, JetBlue often to blame staff for delays and cancellations. In a statement on Thursday, an airline spokeswoman said the airline had made necessary budget cuts and now has enough pilots and other crew members to allow flights to continue when they should. The airline blamed most of the recent delays on problems with air traffic control in “the congested, weather-prone northeast corridor”.
“We made the decision in April to reduce flying by more than 10 percent this summer so that we can more reliably run our schedule with our current staffing levels and other restrictions on the national aviation system,” the spokeswoman said in the statement. “With our reduced capacity, JetBlue had a sufficient number of pilots and crews on board to carry out our schedule in June,” she added.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents JetBlue’s flight attendants, often argues with the company over delays and cancellations. On Thursday, Gary Peterson, the union’s international vice president, said he thought explaining poor flight performance as primarily a weather and air traffic control problem was bogus. “Typically, JetBlue tries to blame everyone but their own leadership team for the airline’s shortcomings, not only for passengers but also for the flight crew,” he said.
The lesson for the average traveler might be to pay close attention to which airline is selling that ticket before clicking buy. Especially on short weekend trips, it might not be worth wasting an hour so you don’t save $100. In recent months, no major airline could be relied upon to arrive on time more than 90 percent of the time — something that was rare even before the pandemic — but Delta, Hawaiian, Alaska and United came closest. with more than 80 percent of flights arriving on time, according to FlightAware and Data from the Bureau of Transport.
Ultimately, for those who want to make sure their flight hasn’t been canceled or delayed, the best bet seems to be to skip air travel on busy weekends.
Delta appeared to be giving that advice when it said on Thursday it would waive change fees and ticket price differences for anyone booked to fly between July 1 and July 4 and wanted to transfer to another date on or before July 8.
As for this July 4 weekend, “My advice is to buy hot dogs and stay home,” said Dean Headley, the co-author of Wichita State University’s aviation rankings.