Transportation Secretary Warns: “There Are Going To Be Challenges” With Flights On Fourth Of July Weekend
Since Memorial Day weekend, airlines have canceled 20,000 flights and delayed more than 173,000, resulting in one of the worst travel periods for Americans.
In a matter of days, travel demand is set to soar as 3.55 million people are expected to fly over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Concerns are already mounting as persistent pilot and crew shortages and understaffing among the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are expected to create another perfect storm of flight disruptions.
On Tuesday evening, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke with NBC Nightly News’ Lester Holt about the travel mess and offered no reassurance about an immediate resolution to chronic flight delays and cancellations plaguing airports across the country.
Holt asked Buttigieg, “Is the July 4 holiday a recipe for disaster given the issues with the system right now?”
Buttigieg answered, “There are going to be challenges, but we’re watching it closely and we’re talking to the airlines every day about their responsibility to make sure that they can accommodate any issues that weather or other curveballs might throw at them. A lot of people, including me, are expecting to get to loved ones over this holiday weekend, and we need a system that is resilient enough to get them there, plus good customer service when an issue does come up.”
Holt responded, “The airlines got a lot of money, over $50 billion. A lot of that, the idea was that you wouldn’t have to lay off people, that you could keep people employed.”
Buttigieg said, “So, the point of this taxpayer funding was to keep people in their jobs. And one of the best things about the Rescue Plan, for example, was the news that airline employees were told to tear up their furlough notices when it came through. But we also saw that a lot of people, including pilots, were nudged into early retirement by the airlines. That certainly is something that reduced the labor force that, right now, we’re really counting on. Often, we’re hearing the lack of a pilot ready to go cited as an issue or a problem that’s contributing to a delay or a cancellation.”
Buttigieg added that some of these issues are “long term”…
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke with @LesterHoltNBC in an exclusive interview about challenges in the travel industry.
Secretary Buttigieg said that while some of these issues are “long term”, others, such as a realistic schedule, should be delivered right away. pic.twitter.com/6l04XR0nBS
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) June 29, 2022
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby recently pointed out the industry is short 12,000 pilots, and “there’s no quick fix.”
United, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, and Spirit Airlines have all reduced flights this summer to alleviate congestion.
Last Friday, airline industry group Airlines for America, which represents the country’s largest airlines (American Airlines, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska Airlines, as well as shippers FedEx and UPS), blamed the FAA’s own understaffing is “crippling” East Coast air traffic.
While the weather could certainly be an issue, the crux of the problem is a pilot shortage and possibly understaffed FAA air traffic controllers.
Buttigieg recently warned airlines that they faced federal government action—presumably including fines—over mounting flight cancellations and delays.
Wed, 06/29/2022 – 15:45