Frustrated with the state of air travel recently? You're not alone. That's prompting Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to try and ensure major airliners hold up their end of the bargain going into the busy summer travel season — or face steep fines if they leave passengers and employees stranded on the tarmac.
"Taxpayers bailed out the airline industry during their time of need," Sanders said in a letter sent Wednesday to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "Now, it is the responsibility of the airline industry and the Department of Transportation to ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the flying public and crew members are able to get to their destinations on time and without delay."
Sanders laid out some steps he wants the Biden administration to consider to penalize airlines for cancellations and delays:
Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts also sent a letter on Wednesday to the 10 largest airline companies, which include Spirit Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines.
They demanded information on delays and other bottlenecks plaguing the industry, in addition to pressing them to provide timely ticket refunds to stranded passengers.
The biggest factor affecting cancellations is that airlines are incredibly short-staffed. When the pandemic slowed air travel, many carriers bought out employees' contracts and encouraged older pilots to take early retirement.
As a result, from December 2019 to December 2020, the number of airline workers shrunk by at least 114,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now carriers are clamoring to staff back up, but they're finding it hard to fill positions.
Delta said it has canceled 100 scheduled daily flights in the US and Latin America between July 1 and Aug. 7. Southwest Airlines has nixed almost 20,000 summer flights.
At least 48 million people are expected to hit the road over the 4th of July holiday weekend.
3.5 million who plan to fly, as airlines struggled to keep up with the soaring post-pandemic summer travel boom
The industry group Airlines for America says a shortage of air traffic controllers is also hobbling flights, but Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, expressed that the bulk of the problem comes from airline downsizing despite a $54 billion government bailout.
The supply shortage has seen the price of aviation fuel hit all-time highs: According to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, jet fuel costs reached $4.82 billion in April 2022, up more than 15% from March and a whopping 58% from April 2019.
Time is of the essence, so be proactive about rescheduling your flight. If that's not possible, call the airline. Even if you get sent to an automated system, it may have a call-back function. You can still call if you're already at the airport. Do it while you're in line to talk to an agent and take whichever option is available first.
"A lot of the time you can reschedule yourself on the flight of your choice" using the airline's app, and that will save you a lot of time and aggravation."
All the airlines are making a concerted effort to give passengers as much information as possible, but that makes the process simpler and cheaper for airlines where canceled flights and significant delays have real-world consequences for the travelers who may miss vacations, sacrifice time with loved ones, or incur significant financial costs.
Some Airlines are offering waivers to encourage passengers to move their flights out of busy time periods. United, Delta, and other carriers are all waiving the usual flight-change fees and some are even foregoing the usual fare difference, but that might not be enough for frustrated travelers.
We hope more legislation finds its way thru Congress to keep airlines responsible and travelers compensated.