American travelers are facing lengthy delays and snowballing numbers of flight cancellations as they attempt to travel for independence day, the latest resurgence of a trend plaguing travelers since the holiday season.
Delta Air Lines
So far, Delta's prediction of "operational challenges" for itself has carried over to most of the industry. According to FlightAware, over 7,800 flights were delayed in the United States on Friday, with almost 600 canceled. By noon on Saturday, over 2,200 flights were delayed, and 550 had been canceled.
With rampant flight delays and cancellations becoming a new norm for travelers and Independence Day already shaping up to be miserable, should airlines follow Delta's travel waiver example? While it would be an immense relief to travelers, waivers are only a crutch that should be used in the short term while addressing the underlying issues.
Those underlying issues haven't changed since late last year; a shortage of personnel and over-burdening of a reduced workforce with stacked flight schedules. While some airlines have worked to trim flight schedules and work around recurring disturbances such as weather or a notoriously difficult flight control region in Florida, skyrocketing fares are making it difficult for consumers to tolerate out-of-control delays.
In addition to mounting consumer resentment, government scrutiny of airliners is picking up as well. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pushed airlines to prepare as the weekend approached, while Federal Aviation Administration head Billy Nolen held a call with executives to discuss their plans for the expected spike in travel. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called on Buttigieg to fine airlines for disruptions, citing short-staffing the $54 billion in emergency funding airlines received to prevent layoffs amid the pandemic that would still later occur.
Preparing for rough patches in the short term by offering passengers waivers during major holidays or other periods of high travel could be an effective short-term solution to give airlines a bit of breathing room. However, breaking the cycle of flight disruptions will likely only come with sufficient efforts to properly recruit and train new staff to make up for existing shortages.