Airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights across the United States on Thursday, marking one of the worst travel days ever as the summer vacation season peaks.
More than a third of all flights were handled at LaGuardia Airport in New York, and more than a quarter were shot down at adjacent Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, according to FlightAware tracking service.
Less than three weeks after airlines canceled the summer travel season by canceling nearly 2,800 flights over a five-day period around the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
And they came as the airline’s CEO held a virtual meeting with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg — a sign of the Biden administration’s concerns about the potential for airports and dissatisfied passengers this summer.
Buttigieg told NBC News, “I’ve told them this is a moment where we’re really counting on them to deliver credibly to the traveling public.”
During the meeting via video conference, Buttigieg asked the CEO to describe the steps he’s taking to make the July 4th holiday and the rest of the summer run smoothly, according to a person familiar with the call, but not publicly available. not authorized to discuss it. ,
Buttigieg also urged airlines to see if they could deal with the flight schedules they publish and improve customer service, the person said.
Nicolas Calio, head of trade group Airlines for America, said in a statement that industry executives would appreciate the opportunity to speak with Buttigieg and “discuss our shared commitment to prioritize the safety of all passengers.”
Airlines are struggling with staff shortages, particularly among pilots, affecting their ability to operate all scheduled flights. Pilot unions in Delta, American and Southwest have said their airlines are too slow to replace pilots who retired or were furloughed early in the pandemic.
Two Senate Democrats said this month that the holiday weekend performance “raises questions about airline decision-making.” Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Massachusetts’ Edward Markey said delays and cancellations are “so common that they’re becoming an almost-anticipated part of travel.”
Airlines blame bad weather and the Federal Aviation Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation that manages the nation’s airspace. In a letter to senators, Calio concluded a long list of FAA delays and personnel issues over the holiday weekend.
Airlines messed with the FAA this spring over delays in Florida, where air travel has recovered faster than many other parts of the country. After meeting with airline officials in May, the FAA approved an increase in staffing and other changes at an air traffic control center near Jacksonville.
Concerns about flight problems come as the number of US air travelers exceeds 2.2 million per day. That’s still about 300,000 fewer per day than mid-June 2019, but visitor numbers will increase over the next few weeks and will almost certainly break the pandemic-era record set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.
Barriers may occur at gateway airports where travelers enter the United States. Last weekend, the Biden administration dropped a 16-month requirement that people must test negative for COVID-19 before flying to the United States, a decision expected to boost international travel, United Airlines said on Monday. This led to an immediate surge in overseas flight searches.
Another danger: The FAA is urging airlines to quickly upgrade devices that may be susceptible to radio interference from the new wireless service. Billy Nolan, the agency’s acting administrator, told airlines Wednesday that Verizon and AT&T plan to roll out hundreds of 5G C-band transmitters near airports on July 5.
Cell phone companies’ dire predictions about early C-band service outages fell short earlier this year. Still, Nolan said the FAA can’t promise some planes won’t have problems. He said industry executives found a way to recall several aircraft with problematic equipment by the end of the year and another in 2023.
Shares in the top six US airlines fell between 6% and 9% on Thursday as economic panic sent the broader market lower.