By Nathan Gomes
(Reuters) – Flight cancellations and delays by U.S. airlines in the first seven months of the year have surpassed the comparable 2019 period, data showed, as staff shortages and adverse weather pummel operations.
U.S.-based carriers scrapped 128,934 flights from January to July, up about 11% from pre-pandemic levels, according to data from flight-tracking website FlightAware. Flight delays have also reached nearly a million this year.
American Airlines Group Inc canceled 19,717 flights, the most among big U.S. carriers, followed by Southwest Airlines Co at 17,381 flights. Delta Air Lines Inc reported the least cancellations at roughly 10,000 flights.
Airlines have faced a turbulent year, attracting intense regulatory scrutiny as their capacity to run flights was challenged by a shortage of pilots and unexpected storms.
Carriers have raised fares to cater to a surge in domestic travel that is fast approaching pre-pandemic levels, but have been unable to fly all the passengers they book, drawing ire from lawmakers.
Last month, two U.S. senators urged the U.S. Transportation Department to fine airlines that delay or cancel flights because of staffing or operational issues, while Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has called for a refresh of rules that govern airlines.
Airlines say they are making every effort, including ramping up staffing, to accommodate a rapid recovery in air travel. They have also blamed a significant part of summer travel disruptions on a lack of air traffic control staffing.
Flight delays from U.S airlines rose to 993,841 this year from 922,400 in the first seven months of 2019, according to FlightAware.
However, some respite seems to be in sight.
“With increased capacity, higher fares, and lessened demand, the traveling public can expect more on-time flights and fewer cancellations in the fall, at least until the holidays,” said Ken Quinn, partner at law firm Clyde & Co US LLP.
GRAPHIC: U.S. flight cancellations over the years (https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-AIRLINES/myvmnebdjpr/chart.png)
(Reporting by Nathan Gomes and Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)