Congressional investigators said in a report Friday that the increase in flight cancellations during travel recovery from the pandemic was largely due to factors within the airlines’ control, including maintenance issues or staff shortages.
The Government Accountability Office also reported that airlines take longer to recover from disruptions such as hurricanes. The GAO reported that the surge in cancellations in late 2021 and early 2022 lasted longer than before the pandemic.
According to government data, the largest increase in cancellations caused by airlines has occurred at budget airlines, but the largest carriers have also made more unnecessary errors.
Airlines have clashed with Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg over the past two years over high charges for canceled and delayed flights. Airlines argue that the government is at fault for not having enough air traffic controllers, while Boutique has blamed the carriers.
The GAO report It was requested by the Republican leaders of the House Transportation Committee. The GAO said it analyzed flight data from January 2018 to April 2022 to understand why travelers experienced more delays and cancellations as travel began to recover from the pandemic.
The GAO said weather was the leading cause of cancellations in the two years prior to the pandemic, but the percentage of airline cancellations began to increase in early 2021. From October to December 2021, airlines made 60% or more cancellations – more than at any time in 2018 or 2019.
Airlines were understaffed then. Airlines took $54 billion in taxpayer money to keep employees on the job through the pandemic, but they cut workers anyway by paying incentives to quit.
As travel picked up again, airlines struggled to replace the thousands of workers who left. They have more employees now than they did in 2019 — and the cancellation rate this year is lower than the same period in 2019, according to data from tracking service FlightAware.
A spokeswoman for the American Airlines trade group said most of the cancellations this year were due to severe weather and air traffic control malfunctions — about 1,300 flights were canceled in a single day due to malfunctions in the Federal Aviation Administration’s security-alert system.
“Carriers are taking ownership of the challenges within their control and continuing to work diligently to improve operational reliability as demand for air travel returns quickly,” said spokeswoman Hannah Walton. “These include aggressive for positions across the industry, launching successful hiring campaigns and reducing schedules in response to the FAA’s staffing shortages.”
Several airlines have agreed to reduce schedules in New York this summer at the request of the FAA, which has a critical shortage of controllers at a key facility on Long Island.
In 2019, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines accounted for the highest percentage of their own cancellations due to airline-controlled issues — more than half of each carrier’s cancellations. In late 2021, they were joined by low-cost carriers Allegiant Air, Spirit Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Frontier, each of which accounted for 60% or more of total cancellations, according to the GAO.
Southwest, Delta, American and United also saw increases in the percentage of cancellations by airline. The figures do not include Southwest’s 16,700 cancellations in late December, which followed a malfunction of the airline’s crew-rescheduling system.
The Transportation Department has increased oversight of flight-scheduling procedures, the GAO said. The Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice are investigating Did Southwest schedule more flights than it could handle before last December’s meltdown?
The Southwest failure led to calls to strengthen passenger compensation rules.