Airlines, gov’t trade blame as air travel woes continue

Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 9:30 AM PDT
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(CNN) - Air travel troubles continue. Day after day, there are thousands of flight delays and cancellations.

But whether it’s an airline issue or a Federal Aviation Administration issue depends on who you ask.

After another week of air travel pain across the country, with the Labor Day rush fast approaching, pressure is increasing on airlines to perform better.

Monday alone, more than 14,000 flights were canceled nationwide, the fourth highest of the summer.

Both Southwest and American Airlines delayed more than 40 percent of all their flights.

“Our flight was canceled yesterday. Now we’re back again today. It was canceled this morning and now we’re back again,” passenger Sylvia Ibarra said.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said hiring at its training center in Denver has made its pandemic recovery quicker than others.

Since the start of this year, United has hired 1,500 new pilots in hopes of alleviating staffing shortages and canceled flights.

In total, U.S. airlines have canceled more than 44,000 flights since June.

“All airlines are not created equal,” Kirby said.

In an exclusive interview, he put some of the blame back on the federal government.

Last week, the FAA said a shortage of air traffic controllers delayed flights into Newark, JFK and LaGuardia by up to two hours.

“Frankly, the bigger challenges are not the airlines themselves; they’re all the support infrastructure around aviation that hasn’t caught up as quickly,” Kirby said.

United has had 5,000 cancellations this summer.

When asked what he would say to somebody who sees this as an airline issue rather than some other cause, Kirby responded, “Well, first I would say we’re doing everything we can to get the airline running reliable. We know that’s the most important thing for customers. It’s our No. 1 priority. We had ground stops for the entire day, and when the FAA says you can’t land airplanes at the airport, you’re going to have delays and cancellations.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg insisted air traffic control issues do not account for many cancellations this summer.

In a letter to airline executives, he said, “The level of disruption Americans have experienced this summer is unacceptable” and told airlines to “review their customer service commitments to passengers. I’m calling on the airlines to step up their game before we have to do even more.”

For United, that starts with training that focuses on quality.

“Our growth plan, the most aggressive growth plan of any airline in the history of aviation, is really the driver behind the need for our pilots,” said Mike Bonner, a captain and United Airlines pilot.

With Labor Day on the horizon, United is expecting big numbers, close to what was seen July 4, when air travel numbers were the highest since March 2020.