As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, the number of air travelers in the United States is predicted to exceed pre-pandemic levels for the first time in four years. However, concerns arise regarding airlines’ ability to handle the surge in summer travel due to recent flight disruptions.
To prepare for the busy summer season, US airlines have implemented measures such as reducing flight schedules and increasing staffing to avoid significant flight disruptions. Nevertheless, the occurrence of inclement weather in certain regions poses a risk to travelers during this period.
According to travel group AAA, approximately 51 million Americans will embark on journeys of 50 miles or more from home between Friday, June 30, and Tuesday, July 4. This figure represents a 4% increase compared to the levels recorded in 2019, which is currently the record year for Fourth of July travel.
It is worth noting that the estimates provided by AAA exclude Thursday, June 29, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) anticipates will be the busiest day for travel over the holiday weekend.
The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported screening 2.7 million passengers on Thursday, marking a 32% rise compared to 2019.
Unfortunately, flight disruptions were observed last weekend due to thunderstorms and equipment malfunctions at an FAA facility in the Washington area. Flight tracking service FlightAware recorded approximately 43,000 delayed flights and over 7,700 cancellations between Saturday, June 24, and Thursday, June 29. Among the affected airlines, United Airlines (UAL.O) experienced the most significant impact, with approximately 19% of its scheduled flights being canceled and 47% delayed.
United Airlines acknowledged the disruptions and stated that improvements were gradually being observed. However, FlightAware data indicated that on Thursday, the airline still had to cancel 18% of its flights, although this was a decrease compared to previous days in the week.
The flight disruptions left passengers frustrated, leading to numerous United customers expressing their dissatisfaction on social media regarding long lines, delays in rebooking flights, and mishandled luggage.
In response, United Airlines apologized to customers on Twitter for the delayed responses to their complaints, citing a high volume of incoming calls.
Stressing the significance of the summer travel season, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg referred to it as a “stress test” for airline operations. He highlighted the importance for airlines to establish sufficient resilience in their systems, acknowledging that weather conditions cannot be controlled.
However, United CEO Scott Kirby placed blame on the Federal Aviation Administration for exacerbating the situation. In a staff memo, Kirby stated that over 150,000 United customers were impacted last weekend due to FAA staffing issues and their impact on traffic management.
Nevertheless, United Airlines assured that it remains “on track” to restore operations for the holiday weekend, during which they expect approximately 5 million people to fly with the airline. Bookings have increased by approximately 12% compared to last year, nearly reaching pre-pandemic levels.
American Airlines (AAL.O) anticipates hosting nearly 3 million customers across more than 26,000 scheduled flights from Friday, June 30, to Tuesday, July 4.
While travel spending remains strong nationwide, other modes of transportation have not yet fully recovered from the pandemic’s impact. AAA predicts that approximately 43 million people will choose to drive to their destinations, reflecting a 4% increase from 2019 levels.
Regarding alternative modes of travel, such as buses, cruise liners, and trains, AAA expects approximately 3 million people to utilize these options over the long weekend. This represents a 24% increase from last year but is 5% lower than the figures recorded in 2019.