Anand Srinivasan was about to check the luggage for a family summer trip to Rhode Island when he found his flight had been cancelled.
“All of a sudden the airport became pure pandemonium” that Saturday morning at Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, said Srinivasan, who lives in Georgia. Weather forecast meant the next available flight to the East would cost rebooking days for the family on their trip. The much-anticipated vacation was a picture set for early March, and Srinivasan presented the price of his Airbnb booking and airport parking.
Airlines have worked for months to brace for falling demand, with constant disruptions and decades of underinvestment in aviation infrastructure threatening to create a repeat of last summer when similar problems wreaked havoc at airports across the globe. But it turns out, the spring has already been proven to be an airline and passengers.
So far this year has already brought a wave of flight cancellations, as hurricanes have overwhelmed airline operations, exposing the system’s limits.
Currently, air travel volumes for this source are expected to reach an all-time high, exceeding 2019 levels, according to the Airline for America industry group. There will be an average of 2.6 million airline passengers per day from March through April. Hartsfield-Jackson alone handles 4.4 million passengers from March 26 to April 9 over 9 days, including a mix of spring vacationers, business travelers and others.
As airlines and air traffic control counter attack, analysts fear more delays, cancellations and passenger frustrations.
To reduce pressure on their operations, airlines are reducing flight schedules and operating 10% fewer flights, Airlines for America said.
Lessons from past meltdowns
Delta had a nightmarish start to the 2022 summer travel season, with the airline quickly overwhelmed by the volume of passengers filling its terminals and planes. Delta canceled hundreds of flights and admitted to being under staff, and was forced to cut back its flight schedules to make it easier.
CEO Ed Bastian said Delta is better prepared this year with thousands of new hires and more pilots going through training.
The airline plans to restore flight capacity to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year. Delta plans to operate more flights from its largest hub in Atlanta this year and recall its largest trans-Atlantic flight schedule. But the airline says it is also taking a measured approach to prioritizing its operations.
Bastian said during the investor presentation that Delta would like to operate more flights. But concerns about the “alternative fragility of aviation infrastructure” including air traffic control staff and the limits of its own workforce have cut Delta, which has been severely cut during the pandemic, now has a quarter of the staff that joined the company above. next year
“I like the push type when the demand is so hot,” Bastian said. But we cannot. We’re not going through a summer like last summer ever again. We will not overestimate our abilities.”
Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier in Atlanta, lost holiday travel for many of its customers last December when its operations collapsed after a major snowstorm, prompting a federal probe.
“We’re well into the remediation plan,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in March, pointing to the investment in new equipment and technology.
But the problems extend beyond the carriers. The United Nations Aviation Administration’s ground stop in January due to the faulty system also left more travelers stranded at airports.
“The nation’s airline industry is broken, and we all find ourselves drifting from crisis to crisis, meltdown to meltdown,” said William McGee, senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Freedom Project, a nonprofit advocacy group that advocates for corporate and antitrust enforcement, in written testimony. to the hearing in the defenses of the airline.
Whether the industry’s equipment is sufficient to handle the influx of travelers in the spring and summer remains to be seen.
Now the FAA has acknowledged that it still has control over air traffic shortfalls and is allowing airlines to operate fewer flights than normally required, in hopes of allowing some operational stability.
One area of concern is New York, where the FAA projects delays will increase 45% this summer compared to the summer of 2022.
In light of that, Delta said it will “review the network to provide the best customer experience during the summer travel season.”
For airlines, pilot staffing is a key chokepoint, especially for regional airlines. Delta and other major carriers have rushed to get trained pilots on certain aircraft after hiring sprees.
The lack of pilots is not the only criticism. The Association of Flight Attendants International President Sara Nelson said in written congressional testimony that “almost all domestic flights stop with a minimum number of flight attendants, so that when something goes wrong there is already an operation to assist the flight staff.”
At the gate, “often a single passenger’s office agent left a board full of plans,” Nelson testified. “And if the flight is delayed or the agent himself is killed or sometimes, no one remains at the terminal to assist the passengers.”
Airlines and airports in Europe have had even more serious problems from too few workers, they are suffering from restlessness and other issues.
Airports are in competition
In the US, airport facilities range from security checkpoints to parking concessions.
For security, the main checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson has been blocked off by four lanes of screening for construction, and the Transportation Security Administration is using three lanes of the lower-level North Terminal checkpoint during the morning hours for overflow.
While TSA Atlanta Director of Federal Security Robert Spinden said the agency has enough staffing, he also warned travelers to prepare for 30-minute delays during peak periods including spring break.
Concessions without employees at Hartsfield-Jackson have been operating on limited schedules while some locations have not reopened due to the pandemic.
“I remember being at the Atlanta airport during one of the busiest concourses and there were literally two vendors open,” said US House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, on March 23 during a hearing about the airline passenger’s experience.
Outside the terminal, Hartsfield-Jackson has closed large swaths of the terminal’s domestic waterfront to take care of the aging structure. The reduction of thousands of parking spaces and the closure of airports on key highways have aggravated motorists and travelers rushing to catch flights.
Crowded gate locations add to the frustrations and experts say the gap in airport infrastructure continues to grow.
“US ratings are simply outdated and maxed out,” testified Kevin Dolliole, vice chair of the Airports Council of North America, in a congressional hearing.
Beyond the airports, travelers will see other bad staffing.
1.7 million jobs are open in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to a February report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The US Tourism Association is called “de”.
Srinivasan, a resident of Johns Creek whose trip was launched in March, said the hassle and cost are not as bad as missing the opportunity to gather with his family.
“It’s an emotional loss not being able to spend time together as a family, and do all the things we had planned to do together,” Srinivasan said.
©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.