It was a weekend that many travelers likely couldn’t wait to forget, and Monday’s travel outlook doesn’t look much better.
Widespread flight disruptions led to more than 17,000 delays nationwide on Saturday and Sunday, according to data collected from FlightAware. While far fewer, the number of cancellations wasn’t great either: Nearly 2,000 flights were scrapped over the weekend.
The cause? A mix of severe weather and an acute equipment outage in the Washington, D.C., area that’s since been fixed. At one point on Sunday, most major airports in the Northeast were operating with a ground stop, halting departing traffic bound for these specific airports.
Monday’s travel forecast isn’t looking great, either.
Airlines have already delayed more than 2,400 flights and canceled more than 820 flights for Monday — and that number is bound to rise. With thunderstorms already swirling over the Northeast, there’s a ground delay program in effect for New York’s three major airports. Additional ground stops are possible later in the day in the Washington, D.C., metro area, plus Philadelphia, Charlotte, South Florida and Las Vegas, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
As we’ve seen time and again, even a short pause in operations is enough to bring an airline to a halt these days. The good news is that no single airline is in full-blown meltdown mode, though delays seem to be far more abundant than cancellations.
On Sunday, the four biggest U.S. airlines delayed between 35% and 40% of their flights but canceled just around 5% of their operations, FlightAware data shows. Airlines largely build their schedules assuming there will be good weather, so any disruption is bound to throw off a perfectly planned schedule.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, airlines have had trouble recovering from even the smallest disruption in a localized part of their network. This weekend, major metro areas were experiencing bad weather, yet no carrier has yet to suffer a large-scale meltdown.
While it’s certainly possible that operations might get worse this week (and later this summer), carriers have had a few years to prepare for what’s poised to be one of the busiest summer travel seasons on record.
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Despite warnings of longer-than-usual hold times, airline call centers seem to be holding up better than expected given the number of irregular operations. American Airlines is offering callbacks within 36 to 50 minutes, and Delta Air Lines is quoting a 56-minute hold. Top-tier elite flyers have been able to get in touch with representatives immediately, TPG tests show.
Perhaps the biggest issue this summer is that getting rebooked could take days when things go wrong. Flights are operating with record load factors, so there simply aren’t many seats available for rebooking.
For instance, Sunday’s slew of cancellations in popular routes — like New York to Chicago and New York to South Florida — has caused most flights to sell out until Wednesday. Any remaining seats are available for walk-up fares topping $1,000, in some cases.
Without any spare seats available, some flyers, especially families with multiple travelers, are also finding that it’s taking a few days to rebook.
If your plans were disrupted this weekend, be sure to check out these recommendations for handling flight delays and cancellations.
For now, all eyes turn to the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend, which could be the busiest of the entire summer travel season.
United Airlines shared that nearly 5 million people are expected to fly with the carrier between Friday, June 30, and Saturday, July 9. Bookings are up about 12% from last year and are nearly equal to pre-pandemic levels.
Friday, June 30, will be the busiest day to fly with United — more than 500,000 customers are expected to take to the skies with the airline that day.