Air travel is a mess. Can it be repaired?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the major stories and debates of the day.

What is happening

Air travel in the United States has been a mess of cancellations, delays and confusion in recent months as short-staffed airlines struggle to keep up with travelers looking to make up for two years of missed vacations caused by the pandemic.

Between Thursday and Monday alone, more than 2,200 flights across the country were canceled and more than 26,000 were delayed, according to the flight tracking service . The disruptions came as airports processed the highest number of travelers they had seen since the start of the pandemic. The Transportation Security Administration has processed Friday, the most single-day since February 2020. As chaotic as the 4th of July weekend was for travelers, it was actually smoother than others .

Last month, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to urge them to “review” schedules to make as many flights as possible during the peak summer travel season. Several major airlines have reduced their daily flight offerings to limit the number of cancellations and delays.

The core of the problem, experts say, is that while traveler numbers have rebounded near pre-pandemic rates, staffing levels have not. Despite receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief funds for to help retain employees, airlines are always striving to fill their ranks with enough pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers and customer service representatives. The airlines also blamed the disruption on understaffing at air traffic control, which is run by the Federal Aviation Administration, although .

Why there is debate

Most experts say there is no quick fix to solve airline staff shortages due to the tight labor market and the long training period needed to upgrade essential workers, especially the pilots.

Many argue that airlines would do well to continue to limit the number of flights they offer at this time. Although this will lead to fewer options and probably supporters say it would at least help prevent the number of major disruptions travelers have to endure.

Certain groups of airline workers, including the , demanded higher wages and less overtime, measures they said would help attract and retain key staff. Others see opportunities for regulators to help increase the number of pilots available, including reducing the number of training hours required before they are allowed to fly and increasing – or dropping entirely – ​the mandatory retirement age for pilots, which is currently set at 65.

Some lawmakers have urged the Department of Transportation to take a much more aggressive approach to holding airlines accountable when schedules go wrong. , I-Vt., has sought fines of up to $55,000 per passenger when flights have to be canceled because they cannot be fully staffed. Several Democratic members of Congress have made .

And after

Buttigieg said late last month he would monitor how airlines handled the July 4 weekend before deciding against them. It’s unclear at this time what standards he uses to judge their performance or what penalties he might consider imposing if they fall short.


Fewer flights means less disruption

“The main issue is the volume of air travelers who are drawn into the airport environment by the volume of flights operated by the airlines. … While such enthusiasm from the airline industry is commendable at a time when a adequate and experienced personnel are available at airports, they are not currently – and will not be for the foreseeable future.—John Gradek,

The Ministry of Transport must punish the airlines for their mismanagement

“The Transport Secretary has the residual power to clamp down on the airlines’ practice of having insufficient crew to meet their published timetables and tickets. That – not weather delays – is the biggest cause of last-minute flight cancellations. —Robert Kuttner,

Airlines make the right decisions, it will just take them time to catch up

“I see the core problem as one of a mismatch between supply and demand. You can’t accelerate immediately to meet the increase in demand.” — Laurie Garrow, aviation and travel behavior expert , for

There are no quick fixes to the many problems plaguing air travel

“Air travel will likely be a messy obstacle course of indignities for the foreseeable future.” —Terry Nguyen,

Better working conditions and salaries will ensure that airlines always have enough staff

“Layoffs are easy, it’s hard to bring people back with the proper security clearance. Additionally, US airlines in particular have a reputation for being unreliable employers – boom and bust cycles mean shaky careers – and the job requires people to be skilled and trying to work. These people probably have more attractive options now. — Addison Schonland, Airline Industry Analyst, for

Mandatory retirement age for pilots should be abolished

“By 2029, not a single baby boomer will be able to legally fly commercial aircraft. As they depart, they take not only a substantial portion of the workforce with them, but also decades of expertise and knowledge. experience in the air…. The question remains, why have a mandatory retirement age?—Megan Gerhardt,

Air travel has always been a mess, but travelers are less willing to tolerate it today

“While Covid disruptions have brought new challenges to labor and supply, at least some of the consumer frustration seems to reflect amnesia about the boredom of flying anywhere. pre-pandemic But among the many predictions of how Covid would change everyday behaviors, the few that seemed to hold involve a realization that it is not actually necessary to endure an array of inconveniences that were previously considered a mere fact of life.—Brooke Sutherland,

Airline passengers must have their rights enshrined in law

“It’s time to take stock when disruptions become the norm instead of the exception. Passengers in European Union countries have had extensive consumer protections in place since 2004. These include compensation when airlines delay or cancel a flight, as well as meals and hotel stays in the event of a delay. of one night. By contrast, the poor treatment of airline passengers in the United States is an old story that gets worse. — Editorial,

More can be done to speed up pilot training

“One of the biggest issues being addressed in the airline industry right now is this issue of pilot training. Is 1,500 hours the flight time we should expect from pilots before certifying them to fly commercial jets? On the one hand, it’s easy to say, “You can’t be too careful. … On the other hand, the United States is a bit of an outlier. Most other countries do not require this level of training before being certified. — Scott Keyes, Air Travel Analyst, at

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

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