Airline Industry Collapsing Under Torrent of Cancellations and Delays

The good news for the airline industry is that business is back. Travelers are returning to the skies and the summer schedules are packed. The bad news, however, is that thousands of flights are being canceled or delayed, resulting in bedlam in airports across the nation.

Over 1,100 flights in the U.S. alone were canceled over the weekend as storms rolled through on Friday and travel disruptions continued. This is on top of nearly 4,000 more that were delayed.

One flight attendant told reporters that the weekend situation was “absolutely shambolic.”

The epidemic of everything from cancellations to lost luggage is one that many declare to be unsustainable. And much of the blame lies at the feet of the industry itself.

Thousands upon thousands of airline workers were furloughed or laid off in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the most experienced personnel were lost, and most airlines worked with skeleton crews on the ground and in the air.

As many operated as shells of their former selves, it is hardly surprising that former workers found employment elsewhere.

One sector of the airline industry that has suffered greatly is flight attendants. These deal with frustrated customers along with delayed flights and staffing shortages daily. Many report sickness and fatigue are growing, adding more fuel to the airport chaos.

And while some airlines have pointed towards absenteeism as the cause for disruptions, flight crews push back at this narrative. They say they are working their longest schedules with the shortest rest periods in between.

The end result is an overworked and fatigued workforce that has weakened immune systems and suffers from exhaustion.

Attendants report that passengers break out into cheers when they arrive, thinking they are the reason that their flight is delayed. As one said, they are usually racing from another flight since they are unable to “work two flights at once.”

This is an issue the Biden administration and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg need to get a handle on. The last thing the U.S. economy needs under a Democratic president is an airline industry that cannot keep up with demand.