Summer travel problems as airlines face a shortage of pilots

Expect some delays and cancellations.

Planning to travel in the next few months? You may want to prepare for some potential headaches. As the number of passengers is at levels not seen since then Before Pandemic, airlines are struggling to keep up with the pandemic.

While many factors such as fuel prices and Covid-19 restrictions play a role, the massive shortage of pilots is forcing major airlines like Delta and Southwest to reduce the number of flights they offer this summer. Just this past April, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby estimated that the regional airlines had about 150 airlines wrecked because no one qualified to fly them.

“We’re really seeing retaliatory travel – people have had two years of pent-up demand and want to get out and travel,” Matthew Howe, senior director of travel intelligence at Morning Consult, told The Guardian. “On the other hand, I think we saw that some [airlines] You may struggle to meet the demand.”

But the fallout isn’t unique to any one carrier: Tracking service FlightAware has found more than 2,800 cancellations and 20,644 delays across US airlines. It’s also not the first time travel problems have occurred recently: Dozens of flights were canceled during the holidays, with several airline employees calling sick, after contracting the highly contagious viral Delta variant.

We break down why this new round of challenges is so difficult to tackle and what airlines are doing about it.

What is happening

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the workforce shortage of airline pilots, who were already entering the industry at historically low rates. In response to the drop in travel at the start of the pandemic, airlines furloughed pilots (among other workers) and offered some early retirement. As a result, the number of airline pilots and engineers decreased from 84,520 in May 2019 to 81,310 in May 2021, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now, many carriers are struggling to meet rising demand (more than 2,000,000 Americans crossed airport security checkpoints on June 11, compared to 1,812,797 the year before, according to the Transportation Security Administration). Regional airlines have faced the brunt of this shortage as they struggle to get staff for airlines because wages are often lower than their main competitors. In response, Piedmont Airlines, the regional carrier of American Airlines, is now offering more than $180,000 in bonuses to new pilots.

How does it affect your travel plans

In addition to flight delays and cancellations, a shortage of pilots could mean fewer options than before the pandemic in major hubs like Chicago or Atlanta, says Michael Taylor, practice leader for travel intelligence at market research firm, J.D. Power. For example, flights will take off every 90 minutes instead of every hour. It also means that flights can be fuller and less comfortable (which means the chances of having an empty seat next to you are less likely).

as such Watchman He notes that travelers may also encounter problems when an unexpected storm occurs and flight delays. There may not be enough alternatives, because the FAA only allows crew members to fly a certain number of hours each day.

What can be done about it

Some experts believe that this crisis requires the need to relax some qualifications and requirements. Since pilots already undergo rigorous medical checks annually, changes could include dropping the mandatory retirement age of 65, as set by the Federal Aviation Administration, which some local aviation officials have already done in some areas to help address the pilot shortage. this is could Making a real impact: About 13% of the country’s airline pilots will reach retirement age within the next five years, according to the regional airline association.

“There are some cases where people have to be told for medical reasons not to travel anymore, but you can do so on a case-by-case basis. Doctors have already seen them and an evaluation can be done on an ongoing basis,” aviation reporter Miles O’Brien told PBS.

Another potential solution is to reduce the number of hours of training candidates need to become pilots for an airline. For this status, candidates must log 1,500 hours in the sky, although there are exceptions for military-trained pilots and those who attend two- and four-year programs that include flight training.

The problem is that the government will need to take quick action to make both of these changes happen, and that doesn’t look very promising. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already cast doubt on a proposal by regional airline Republic Airways that would invite pilots to fly for an airline with 750 instead of the 1,500 hours of training required if they go through the carrier’s training program. And although Republican Lindsey Graham has proposed legislation to raise the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots to at least 67, the legislation is progressing slowly.

“While anyone can request a waiver, that doesn’t mean it will be granted,” the FAA told CNBC in May. “The FAA fully understands the intent of Congress when it established the 1,500-hour requirement and supports the safety goal I set to achieve.”

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