Airlines and F.A.A. Try to Head Off Summer Travel Meltdowns (2023)


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Having angered travelers and lawmakers, airline executives and aviation officials said they were reducing flights, hiring staff and making other changes to avoid disruptions this summer.

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Airlines and F.A.A. Try to Head Off Summer Travel Meltdowns (1)

By Niraj Chokshi

(Video) American Airlines cut almost 50,000 flights from summer schedule

The number of Americans who will fly this summer could eclipse the prepandemic high from 2019. That would be great news for airlines, but it could also cause a backlash against the industry if it fails to keep up with demand and delays or cancels thousands of flights.

The recovery from the pandemic has been punctuated by several major travel meltdowns, stranding millions of travelers and angering lawmakers and regulators. In recent months, the Transportation Department has proposed requiring greater transparency around airline fees and requiring companies to more fully compensate people whose flights are delayed or canceled.

A major misstep could increase political pressure on lawmakers and regulators to take a harder line against airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration, which directs air traffic and has also had notable failures in recent years.

“A lot of focus is going to be on the airlines, and I don’t think they can afford to have a summer like they did last year,” said William J. McGee, a senior fellow at the American Economic Liberties Project, a research and advocacy group that has criticized consolidation in the airline business. “This pattern they had last year of canceling flights at the last minute, in many cases due to crew shortages, that’s just unacceptable. They’re not going to be able to do that again, I don’t think, not without some serious repercussions.”

Industry executives and F.A.A. officials say they made changes after recent disruptions and meltdowns that should make air travel less chaotic and more pleasant this summer than in recent years.

Why have airlines struggled so much?


Nearly every major airline and the air traffic control system have suffered a meltdown at some point during the recovery from the pandemic.

Early on, when coronavirus vaccinations were still being developed and tested and restrictions prevented people from traveling, carriers encouraged thousands of employees to take buyouts or retire early even though the federal government had provided airlines with billions of dollars to pay employee salaries. When air travel quickly rebounded, airlines, like every other business, struggled to hire and train employees, including pilots, flight attendants and baggage handlers.

Even when companies got a hold on hiring, airlines remained particularly susceptible to disruptions. During the holidays leading into 2022, a resurgent coronavirus sickened huge numbers of crew members, compounding problems caused by bad weather and resulting in thousands of flight cancellations nationwide.

(Video) Pilot shortage looms as travel surge sets to kick off

Another problem: The aviation system uses technology and ways of doing business that were developed years or decades ago and are showing their age. Around Christmas last year, Southwest Airlines struggled to overcome bad storms because of insufficient equipment and inadequate crew scheduling software and practices, stranding millions of travelers. Weeks later, the F.A.A. briefly stopped all flights from taking off nationwide after a contractor deleted a file in a dated pilot alerting system.

The industry has put in place changes to minimize disruptions, including hiring more staff, reducing the number of flights and adding more resilience to their networks. They appear to be helping: Through early May, weather was by far the leading cause of flight delays, and cancellations were limited compared with 2019.

What will the summer look like?


So far this year, air travel has returned to prepandemic levels, with more than 2.1 million people passing through airport checkpoints daily, as many as during the same period in 2019, according to Transportation Security Administration data. Airport traffic has already broken pandemic records on several days this May, according to the T.S.A.

But traffic could soon exceed even those 2019 volumes. This Memorial Day weekend, the start of the summer travel season, is expected to be the third busiest in more than two decades, with 5.4 percent more people planning to fly than in the same weekend before the pandemic, according to the AAA travel club.

Dozens of major airports are also expected to see double-digit growth in traffic this summer, from last summer, according to Airlines for America, a trade association. That list includes airports serving big cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle and Denver. It also includes six hub airports for United Airlines, five for Delta Air Lines and four for American Airlines.

What is the F.A.A. doing?


To keep flights running smoothly this summer, the F.A.A. is relaxing rules at some busy airports.

Those rules require airlines to use or lose takeoff and landing slots that they’ve been assigned. But by easing that requirement from mid-May to mid-September, the F.A.A. hopes to encourage carriers to fly fewer, larger planes without fear of losing their spots. The policy applies to the three major airports serving New York City, as well as Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The F.A.A. said it had relaxed the rules partly because of a staffing shortfall at an air traffic control center that serves the New York airports and employs only about half its target number of air traffic controllers. Without the change, the F.A.A. said, flight delays this summer could increase up to 45 percent from last summer. The problems could reverberate nationwide because many flights connect in New York.

The F.A.A. has also said it has taken steps to better accommodate flights around space launches, which have increased, particularly in Florida but also in California and Texas. In early May, the agency announced that it had opened up 169 new routes, primarily at high altitudes and along the East Coast, to ease congestion.

(Video) Flight cancellations cause changes to summer plans

What are airlines doing?


Some airlines say they’ve prepared for summer by planning to use bigger planes, hiring more staff and more closely watching for early signs of disruptions.

At the F.A.A.’s request, several major airlines have agreed to fly less, but with bigger planes, at some busy airports. United, for example, said it planned to have 30 fewer daily departures out of its Newark hub than in the summer of 2019. But because it’s using larger planes, the airline said, it will offer 5 percent more seats in the New York area.

The airline, for example, has cut the number of round-trip flights between Newark and St. Louis to three a day this July from four a day last year. But because it swapped out one of the regional jets that it typically uses for a larger Airbus A319, United is offering 18 percent more seats on that route than last year.

“We very, very, very much want to fly a larger schedule,” said Patrick Quayle, a senior vice president for global network planning and alliances at United. “But what we care about most is running a reliable operation.”

Other airlines are also planning to use larger planes on certain routes, a practice that has accelerated in recent years and is known as “upgauging.” Airlines have scheduled about 5 percent more flights within the United States this summer than last summer, and about 10 percent more seats will be available, according to Cirium, an aviation data provider. Compared with the summer of 2019, airlines this summer will fly 10 percent fewer flights yet offer 3 percent more seats.

The industry has also aggressively recruited and trained new employees. As of March, passenger airlines employed the equivalent of nearly 487,000 full-time employees, the most since October 2001, according to an analysis of federal data by Airlines for America, the industry group. Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, recently said the airline had finished a hiring spree.

(Video) Staffing shortages hit airlines as summer travelers book flights

“The hiring rates that we’re at now are just normal hiring rates for normal attrition, not of the massive bulge that we needed to go through to restore the business,” Mr. Bastian told Wall Street analysts on a conference call in April. “And so not only are we able to reduce the focus on getting out and hiring people, we can take the people that have been doing the training and put them back in the business.”

Airlines have also tried to be smarter about spotting disruptions before they result in mass delays and cancellations. After its winter holiday debacle, Southwest said it would better use real-time data to keep tabs on the health of its network. American said it had also put into place a system called Heat, which would allow it to quickly delay and cancel flights in response to mounting problems while minimizing the number of customers affected.

Do you work in aviation? The New York Times wants to hear your story. Please share your experiences with us below, and you can learn more about our reporting here. We especially want to hear from people who work for (or used to work for) airports or airlines, or who are part of government agencies that help keep the aviation sector running. We won’t publish any part of your submission without your permission.

Niraj Chokshi covers the business of transportation, with a focus on airlines. @nirajc


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Are airlines a monopoly? ›

The U.S. airline industry today is arguably an oligopoly. An oligopoly exists when a market is dominated by a small group of companies, often because the barriers to entry are significant enough to discourage potential competitors.

Why is there a shortage of air traffic controllers? ›

There are currently 10% fewer air traffic controllers than a decade ago, a situation that was made worse by the pandemic because training was halted—it meant that the industry hasn't been able to hire to fill the shortfall that was already happening, pre-Covid.

What is the issue with American airlines? ›

The biggest issue facing American is the utilization of its assets, Isom said. The carrier has about 150 aircraft parked, including 100 regional jets, because of a pilot shortage. "We actually have assets in place to fly a much larger airline," Isom said. "That would be a good thing, especially from a cost perspective.

Do flight attendants know which seats are empty? ›

So, yes, the flight attendants know which seats in business (or first) class are supposed to be empty, and if someone is found in one, they'll be asked to move... (and if you're on a US-based carrier, it might be a little stronger than just a request!)

Which airline wants to remove all seats? ›

Budget airline VivaColombia is considering plans to remove all seats from its planes and make passengers stand. They hope the move will drive down fares by allowing them to squeeze more passengers into each flight, opening up air travel to working class Colombians and budget holidaymakers.

Which president deregulated the airline industry? ›

President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act into law on October 24, 1978, the first time in U.S. history that an industry was deregulated.

Was airline deregulation good or bad? ›

Later studies highlighted the negative effects of the deregulation. Goetz and Vowles (2009) found that deregulation had contributed to the financial and employment instability including the bankruptcy of airlines, reduced overall service quality, fewer flights and higher fares to smaller places. ...

What are the big 4 airlines? ›

Page 1
  • FlightFriday.
  • United Airlines.
  • American Airlines.
  • Delta Air Lines.
  • Southwest Airlines.
Apr 6, 2023

What is the lowest air traffic controller salary? ›

The average Air Traffic Controller salary is $83,833 as of May 01, 2023, but the salary range typically falls between $68,686 and $103,187. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession.

Why can't you be over 30 to be air traffic controller? ›

All ATC applicants must be 30 or younger on the closing date of the application period to qualify for the position, according to the FAA. This is because the agency has determined through extensive research that the older someone is, the harder is it for them to complete the rigorous training.

Why are air traffic controllers paid so well? ›

Air traffic controllers get paid six-figure salaries because the nature of their work is stressful, exhausting, and leaves no room for error. While there are various routes to become one, air traffic controllers have to undergo lots of training as the safety of the aircrew and passengers is on the line.

What cities are being cancelled by American Airlines? ›

"In response to the regional pilot shortage affecting the airline industry and soft demand, American Airlines has made the difficult decision to end service in Columbus, Georgia (CSG), Del Rio, Texas (DRT) and Long Beach, California (LGB) this spring," American Airlines wrote. AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC.

Why can't American Airlines check me in online? ›

You might not be able to check in using the app, if: Your first flight is not operated by American Airlines. You're traveling with a pet, weapon or firearm. You're an unaccompanied minor.

Why are so many flights being cancelled? ›

Ongoing staffing issues and aircraft shortages stemming from the pandemic have become another cause of flight delays in the U.S. This has felt particularly hard among pilots. Even though fewer flights are operating now than in 2019, some airlines are still grappling with staffing and aircraft cuts.

Can flight attendant sleep during the flight? ›

Flight attendants on long-haul flights are provided with spaces to rest.

Are flight attendants allowed to sleep on the plane? ›

All-in-all, the cabin crew can sleep on the plane and during the stopovers, which are usually 24 hours long and can be up to 2 days or more. Thus allowing the crew to not only rest but relax and visit the place they have the layover. The airlines cover the cost of the stay, food and transport to and from the airport.

Do flight attendants know how much you paid? ›

While cabin crew can't see how much you paid for your ticket, they are able to see if you're a frequent flier with the airline and, if so, your status.

Who has best airline seats? ›

JetBlue scores at the top for the best airlines with comfortable economy seats. Passengers will enjoy an above-average seat pitch of 32-34” and a seat size of 17.8 – 18.4”. Not to mention, JetBlue is one of only two domestic airlines in the U.S. that offers free WiFi to passengers.

Why do airlines skip seat F? ›

Some airlines may skip some letters because some of the letters are absent from their alphabet (e.g. an airline in Vietnam may have the layout ABC-DEG-HKL in economy class because letters f, j, w, and z are absent from the Vietnamese alphabet).

Which seat is most preferred in flight? ›

Usually, it's best to pick a seat toward the front of the plane for several reasons: It's usually quieter, and you can get on and off faster. There's a balance between choosing front/back and window/aisle.

How much were plane tickets in the 1950s? ›

Despite being known as the golden age of air travel, flying in the '50s was not cheap. In fact, a roundtrip flight from Chicago to Phoenix could cost today's equivalent of $1,168 when adjusted for inflation. A one-way flight to Europe could cost more than $3,000 in today's dollars.

Who is the grandfather of airline deregulation? ›

Kahn showed up as an outsider and economist, and set about to dismantle the government agency he headed. During his lifetime he became widely known as the father of airline deregulation, though whenever the claim was leveled he�d demand a paternity test.

Who has benefited the most from airline deregulation? ›

Although all travelers are now enjoying lower fares, on average, as a result of deregulation, it is clear that travelers at large and medium hub airports have benefited more than those at small and nonhub airports. There are two possible explanations for the difference. One is a lack of competition. The other is costs.

What was one of the most profound impacts of airline deregulation? ›

The two most important consequences of deregulation have been lower fares and higher productivity. Fares. Between 1976 and 1990 average yields per passenger mile—the average of the fares that passengers actually paid—declined 30 percent in real, inflation-adjusted terms.

What was one negative outcome that occurred due to the airlines deregulation Act? ›

In the years following the Airline Deregulation Act, many employees lost their jobs, and some airlines went bankrupt —including one of the largest, Pan Am.

What happened after the Airline Deregulation Act? ›

air carriers, in hiring employees, were required to give preference to terminated or furloughed employees of another carrier for 10 years after enactment; and. remaining regulatory authority were transferred to the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and the CAB itself was dissolved in 1984.

What are 7 star airlines? ›

Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin are all on the list. But what's interesting is the number of smaller airlines who have a seven-star ranking. Jetstar, AirAsiaX and EasyJet all made the 7-star list. Tiger Airways Australia has four stars, as does Jetstar Japan, Ryan Air Ireland and Scoot Singapore.

What are top 5 best airlines? ›

Overall Rankings: The Best Airlines in the U.S.
  • Delta Air Lines.
  • Spirit Airlines.
  • SkyWest Airlines.
  • United Airlines.
  • Alaska Airlines.
  • Hawaiian Airlines.
  • JetBlue.
  • Envoy Air.
Apr 20, 2023

What is the most diverse airline? ›

For the fifth consecutive year, Forbes named Southwest Airlines® as one of America's Best Employers for Diversity in 2022.

What is the salary of a Air Traffic Controller at JFK? ›

How much does an Air Traffic Controller make in New York, NY? The average Air Traffic Controller salary in New York, NY is $98,504 as of May 01, 2023, but the salary range typically falls between $80,706 and $121,245.

What is the oldest you can be to be an Air Traffic Controller? ›

What are the age requirements for individuals without previous air traffic control (ATC) experience? Candidates applying to an ATCS Trainee announcement must be age 30 or below, cannot be age 31 as of the closing date of the vacancy.

Is there a lot of math to be an Air Traffic Controller? ›

For example, in a large airport tower, several controllers may be speaking with different pilots at the same time. Math skills. Controllers must be able to do arithmetic accurately and quickly. They often need to compute speeds, times, and distances, and they recommend heading and altitude changes.

What is the life expectancy of an air traffic controller? ›

What is the life expectancy of an air traffic controller? Controllers must retire at the age of 56. Those with 20 years of experience are eligible to retire at age of 50, while those with 25 years of service may retire earlier than that.

Can you have ADHD and do air traffic control? ›

ADHD itself is not a disqualifying condition. The FAA acknowledges that sometimes that the ADHD diagnosis in the past was in error. If you have a formal diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, you may need to undergo additional testing in order to receive a medical certificate.

Can you be an air traffic controller with anxiety? ›

A medical history or clinical diagnosis of a psychosis, or other severe mental disorder is disqualifying. All Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS) applicants must take and pass a psychological exam.

What is the highest Air Traffic Controller salary? ›

Highest paying cities for Air Traffic Controllers near United States
  • Houston, TX. $115,205 per year. 6 salaries reported.
  • Atlanta, GA. $112,495 per year. 8 salaries reported.
  • Indianapolis, IN. $107,694 per year. 7 salaries reported.
  • Edwards, CA. $73,866 per year. ...
  • Los Angeles, CA. $52,882 per year. ...
  • Show more nearby cities.
6 days ago

What is the most stressful job in the world Air Traffic Controller? ›

Just another day for an air traffic controller in what is called the most stressful job in the world? No, actually it is a scene from the 1999 film Pushing Tin starring John Cusack, which is centered around the lives of two controllers.

Do pilots make more than air traffic controllers? ›

Pilots are required to have a meal every 4 or 6 hours during the flight period. During long haul flight, pilot use auto pilot to assist their performance. This means that individual pilots have owner assistance to reduce stress in the cockpit. Most pilots have higher salaries than ATC.

Do airlines pay for hotels due to cancellations? ›

No. Airlines are not required to reimburse you for any trip costs affected by the cancelled flight, such as a prepaid hotel room, a cruise, a vacation, concert or other tickets, or lost wages.

What happens if an airline cancels your flight? ›

Refund entitlements for your flight

The US Department of Transportation says you are entitled to a refund of your ticket cost because of a cancellation or “significant delay” and you choose not to travel. This is the policy regardless of the reason the airline cancels or delays the flight.

Can I get reimbursed for a delayed flight? ›

Do delays come with some type of compensation? There is no law requiring airlines to compensate passengers for delays, so most do not, according to Mody. "The minute your flight is delayed, get in that line to talk to a flight agent, and at the same time, take out your phone and call the airline," she recommended.

Why does it say please check-in with an agent at the airport? ›

When you make a change to a reservation or there was a disruption to your travel plans, some tickets may need to be re-issued by the airline. If this is the case, you normally wouldn't be able to print a boarding pass at all, but online check-in or an airport kiosk may print a document that says to see an agent.

Can airlines rebook you on another airline? ›

Can I ask to be rebooked on another airline's flight? Yes. Airlines aren't required to put you on another airline's flight, but they can, and sometimes do, according to the DOT. Jeff Klee, CEO of, recommends researching alternate flights while you're waiting to talk to an agent.

What is SSSS airport? ›

“SSSS” stands for secondary security screening selection. I'm not sure if the TSA came up with the abbreviation first and then came up with words to justify it, or if it was the other way around. Simply put, an “SSSS” on your boarding pass means that you're getting an extra thorough search when you go through security.

Which airlines are struggling the most? ›

American Airlines Is The Most Unreliable Among U.S. Travelers
  • American Airlines: 2,183 flight problems and 6,491 reported complaints.
  • United Airlines: 1,583 flight problems and 5,135 reported complaints.
  • Spirit Airlines: 1,102 flight problems and 3,206 reported complaints.
Jan 18, 2023

Which US airport has the most Cancelled flights? ›

U.S. Airports With the Most Cancellations
AirportScheduled FlightsCanceled Flights
Orlando International10,97137
San Francisco International10,85237
Newark Liberty International12,83733
Boston Logan International13,33332
6 more rows
3 days ago

Will an airline cancel a flight if its not full? ›

Contrary to popular belief, airlines don't cancel flights just to save money, for instance if there aren't enough passengers to make it worth their while. But they do cancel flights to prevent even wider cancellations and delays.

What is an airline status challenge? ›

by Gary Leff on May 4, 2023. American Airlines offers elite status challenges. You can earn status on an expedited basis, with a fairly complicated formula. It's a way of getting their status quickly, rather than having to wait until you earn (say) 200,000 Loyalty Points in a year to become an Executive Platinum.

Who is the woman who refuses to switch seats? ›

In October, a woman named Maresa Friedman defended herself for not moving seats in a TikTok that went viral, eliciting a response from another creator who urged her to "do better" and have "compassion" for families.

What does hot seat mean in flight? ›

Information. Answer. What is a Hot Seat? Hot Seats are seats located in the forward cabin or with extra legroom. Xpress Boarding is available for guests who booked Hot Seat (effective 1st January 2022).

Did the woman get praised for not switching seats on a plane? ›

Woman Praised for Refusing to Switch Plane Seats With 'Rude' Mom and Child. A passenger has been praised online after refusing to swap seats twice on a 10-hour flight.

Why do airlines ask for volunteers to change flights? ›

When a flight has more passengers who are ready to fly than there are seats available, airlines must first ask passengers to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation, before bumping anyone involuntarily. Airlines may offer passengers incentives, such as money or vouchers, to volunteer.

Will United honor Delta status? ›

Not all airlines offer status matches and/or challenges, but fortunately, United Airlines is one that does. Hot Tip: United is just one of the airlines that offers a status match, along with American, Alaska, and Delta, among others.

Do airlines match status with hotels? ›

Many airlines and hotel programs have done so in the past — randomly from time to time. They may either publicly advertise the offer or agree to match status if you contact them. They may launch a status match offer for all sorts of reasons.

Is it rude to ask someone to switch seats on a plane? ›

If you've already boarded your flight, Whitmore says to speak with a flight attendant. "Flight attendants have the authority to move people around and the flight attendant can ask someone," she says, emphasizing that seat trades should always be "equal."

Who was the woman cancelled for not giving up first class seat? ›

Maresa Friedman, a business, brand and marketing strategist from the US, revealed in a now-viral TikTok that she refused to give up her seat to a family who wanted to sit together. Ms Friedman, who was flying on US-based airline Delta, had no regrets over the act, saying it all comes down to “planning”.

Who got kicked off the plane for not wanting to sit next to a baby? ›

An irate woman was booted from an Endeavor Air flight — for refusing to sit next to a Rochester mom and her bawling baby boy. Beauty consultant Marissa Rundell was flying from JFK to Syracuse on Feb. 6 when she said she was insulted by the blonde, potty-mouthed woman.

What does seat F mean on a plane? ›

Occasionally, aircraft with a seating structure of 2+2 may letter the seats as "ACDF" to keep with the standard of A/F being window and C/D being aisle on short-haul aircraft (which generally have 3+3 seats).

Which flight seat is the best? ›

Usually, it's best to pick a seat toward the front of the plane for several reasons: It's usually quieter, and you can get on and off faster. There's a balance between choosing front/back and window/aisle.

Is seat f on a plane a window? ›

The window seats are labeled A and F, whereas the aisles are called C and D, to acquaint all those involved with knowing a standardization in the process of assigning seat designations.

Did American Airlines stop a family from boarding a flight after they said their daughter had special needs? ›

A family was not allowed to board an American flight after saying their daughter had special needs. They were not seated together on a new connecting flight after they missed one due to a delay. They told staff they had to be next to their 13-year-old daughter because she could suffer seizures.

What airline told woman to cover up? ›

A woman has claimed that she was told to “cover up” by Alaska Airlines staff when preparing to board a flight. Tiktok user @badbish1078 shared a video on the social media site showing her sitting in a plane cabin, alongside the caption: “Alaska Airlines just told me I had to 'cover up' if I wanted to get on the plane.”

Who is the lady who keeps getting on planes? ›

Marilyn Hartman (born 1951 or 1952), known as the Serial Stowaway, is an American woman known for stowing away on at least 22 commercial airline flights since 2014.


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