Thousands of flights are delayed or cancelled as holiday travel kicks off

Travellers across the country faced the prospect of cancelled or delayed flights Saturday as airlines and airports dealt with a combination of high demand, bad weather and staffing shortages.

As of Saturday night, nearly 650 flights in the United States had been cancelled and more than 5,200 flights within, into or out of the country had been delayed, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.

While the number of problem flights was higher than on a typical travel day, travel demand was also higher. According to the Transportation Security Administration, the number of travelers over the Fourth of July holiday weekend had reached prepandemic levels. Travel demand over the same holiday weekend last year had substantially recovered from pandemic lows but was still below this year’s levels.

FlightAware data showed that the three airports in the United States most affected by cancellations and delays on Saturday were Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Kennedy Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in the New York area.

The number of canceled and delayed flights was far below the levels over this past Christmas and New Year’s holidays, when bad weather and Omicron-related staff shortages wreaked havoc with airline schedules.

Still, the airlines are scrambling to keep up with demand this July 4 holiday, as they struggle with a pilot shortage, weather conditions and air traffic control delays.

“Delta teams continue to safely manage through the compounding factors of inclement weather and air traffic control delays, which impact available flight crew duty time,” a Delta Air Lines spokesman said in an email. “Canceling a flight is always our last resort, and we sincerely apologize to our customers for any disruption to their travel plans.”

Delta said it was offering customers the ability to reschedule flights from July 1 through July 4 with no fare change if they are traveling between the same origin and destination.

United Airlines also blamed weather and air traffic control programs for its delays.

Adding to the stress at American Airlines was a computer glitch in its pilot trip trading system that, the airline said, allowed some trip trading that “shouldn’t have been permitted.” But American said it did not “anticipate any operational impact because of this issue” and added that the “primary drivers of delays/cancellations” on Saturday were “weather and traffic control issues.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said the top cause of the flight delays and cancellations was weather conditions followed by travel demand. The agency added in a statement: “The F.A.A. has acted on the issues raised by airlines, and is working with them to share information to keep aircraft moving safely when weather and other airspace events constrain capacity. The agency also has added alternate routes and placed more controllers in high demand areas, and increased data sharing.”

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