Thousands of travelers were left stranded in airports over the Fourth of July holiday after severe weather and the effects of wildfire smoke spreading across parts of the country coming from Canada forced many airlines to cancel flights, leaving them frantically trying to re-route passengers.
More than 2,000 flights were delayed in advance of the pre-Fourth of July weekend.
Amidst the chaos, the blame game was in full effect. Frustrated passengers pointed the finger at airlines, airlines blamed the FAA, twitter users called out Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation and the head of the department responsible for the FAA, and Buttigieg blamed the weather.
The truth is, there is plenty of blame to go around.
United Airlines CEO, Scott Kirby stated in an email, “The FAA frankly failed us this weekend.”
The FAA is suffering from a shortage of air traffic controllers which slows traffic and hinders the speed with which flights can be re-routed.
The FAA insists the New York City area, a hub for many of the delays that rippled throughout the country, was fully staffed.
One has to wonder what “fully staffed” means these days. As we know, government agencies are fond of changing definitions to accommodate their failures or create policy to better suit their agendas.
According to a report from the Department of Transportation, nationwide, over 2,548 are retiring this year and last. Training and certifying new controllers takes 2-3 years according to the FAA.
A union email said flight attendants are waiting for hours on the phone to reach crew scheduling.
While there are no recent reports of understaffing from the airlines, there was still a deficit of pilots in 2022. Many pilots and crew defected from their jobs or were fired due to restrictive Covid policy in 2020-2021. It’s reasonable to wonder if those people ever returned to their jobs.
After three years of stifled travel due to Covid, people have shed their fear and are ready to hit the road even more than last year, the first summer of restriction free travel for the most part. Many want to visit friends and family, and finally make good on long delayed vacations despite the rising costs.
“We’ve never projected travel numbers this high for Independence Day weekend,” Paula Twidale, the senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a press release. “What this tells us is that despite inventory being limited and some prices 50% higher, consumers are not cutting back on travel this summer. Many of them heeded our advice and booked early, another sign of strong travel demand.”
Indeed, the holiday weekend saw a record number of travelers, and while many of the 50 million predicted moved by car, about 4 million set off by plane.
Understandably, stranded passengers were beyond frustrated and many took those frustrations out at Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg.
Most demanded that they should be compensated appropriately either through refunds or proper accommodations.
“It’s 4:30am in the Denver airport. Cleaners are about now. Since Thursday, I’ve had 3 cancellations. multiple delays. and no accommodation. @united this is unacceptable. do better. @SecretaryPete @nytimes”
Buttigieg didn’t outright respond to complaints but defended the performance of airline industry in a July 3rd tweet:
“Yesterday saw an all-time record number of US airline passengers. At 2.7%, the overall cancellation rate was the lowest since the week began. Good progress here—FAA will continue to work with airlines to manage weather & reduce delays.”
The ex-mayor of South Bend, Indiana mostly blamed the weather, giving the FAA and airlines a pass. He said Sunday that less than 10 percent of delays were due to staffing issues. He also commented that the Transportation Department is set to hire 1,500 more air traffic controllers this year and an additional 1,800 next year to help address staffing issues.
It seems the airline industry is suffering from a good old-fashioned case of economics when demand outpaces supply.
People can blame the weather (good luck with that), Mayor Pete, their cat or anything else they want. It’s unlikely it will get them on a flight any sooner or at a lower cost than the astronomical fees consumers have been paying over the past year.
These are and have always been the woes of traveling, particularly during holidays.
The best thing to do is prepare accordingly – both financially and mentally – to deal with the inevitable troubles that travel involves and that one other thing that seems to vex people; understand that increased government regulations make it more difficult and expensive for any business to operate and vote differently.
Jennifer Galardi is the politics and culture editor for 19FortyFive.com as well as opinion writer. She has a Master’s in Public Policy from Pepperdine University and produces and hosts the podcast Connection with conversations that address health, culture, politics, and policy. In a previous life, she wrote for publications in the health, fitness, and nutrition space. In addition, her pieces have been published in the Epoch Times and Pepperdine Policy Review. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.