Canceled flights, packed planes, rising fares and violent outbursts are the new normal for air travel. Flying is getting worse for both passengers and crews.
The problems run deeper than the operational meltdowns that caused Southwest (LUV) and American Airlines (AAL) to cancel thousands of flights over four-day periods in recent weeks, each time stranding tens of thousands of angry passengers. Staffing shortages are leading to overworked flight crews and most of the canceled flights. Vaccine mandates could lead to even more staffing shortages. Less choice in flights has led to higher ticket prices. And altercations over masks have been the cherry on the top of a miserable year for travel. Those issues will continue well into the holiday season — and perhaps they’ll get even worse.
American and Southwest blamed their recent service meltdowns on lacking enough pilots and flight attendants to adjust for cancellations that began with bad weather. Southwest’s October 8-11 cancellation nightmare cost it $75 million, the airline reported recently. Officials with various airline unions say that their members are stressed to the “breaking point” by work conditions because of understaffing. Many pilots and flight attendants say they’re having trouble getting hotel rooms they need to have the government-mandated rest while working.
Pilots at American have held informational pickets in recent weeks to complain about work conditions, and Southwest pilots are planning their own pickets this month. And the airline unions say they’re worried that the problems will get worse with the pick-up in travel expected over the holidays. “We want that flying to get done, but we don’t want tickets sold that can’t be fulfilled,” said Capt. Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, in an interview last month about the holiday season. “Are they biting off more they can they chew?”