Summer Flying Turns Ugly: Flight Cancellations Rise and On-Time Rates Plunge, Leaving Many Travelers Stranded; More Crew Shortages Loom
July 30, 2009
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  • By Scott McCartney


    While air travel was expected to have its share of hassles this summer, it has turned into a nightmare for many fliers. In recent weeks, travelers have been hit with long delays caused by everything from labor shortages and seasonal thunderstorms to computer snafus.

    The number of flights canceled in the first 15 days of June was up a whopping 91% compared with the same period last year, and the number of flights that were excessively late — more than 45 minutes — jumped 61%, according to Overall, 70.7% of all U.S. flights arrived on time from June 1 through June 15, compared with 79% last year.

    “I fly a lot, and I’ve never seen it this bad this systematically. It’s like the Italian train system,” said Nick Abbott, a vice president at networking concern Intelliden Corp. who was stuck in Philadelphia for two days after his flight on US Airways was delayed and then canceled last week.

    Northwest Airlines Corp., battling with labor unrest, canceled 352 flights on Saturday and Sunday — more than the carrier canceled in the entire month of June last year, according to FlightStats. With airplanes booked full on a busy summer weekend, grounding 13% of flights left many travelers stranded, and problems continued yesterday. By noon EDT, 100 flights had already been canceled.

    Just a week ago, Northwest’s pilots union passed a “no confidence” resolution on management, citing shortages this summer of pilots as well as millions of dollars in executive compensation. Northwest said in a statement that the airline was experiencing crew shortages after storms earlier in the month increased duty time, and was relaxing ticket restrictions to accommodate passengers as quickly as possible.

    The problem may get worse this weekend because crew shortages typically worsen at the end of the month. Some pilots called in to fly extra trips hit federal limits on monthly duty time and aren’t available for trips.

    Thomas Adams was trying to get his family of four from Orange County, Calif., to Louisville, Ky., with a connection in Minneapolis last weekend when Northwest canceled their first flight. The family ended up driving about 90 miles to San Diego to catch flights on Delta Air Lines Inc.

    Date: 2007-06-26