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Airlines, FAA spar over flight delays ahead of July Fourth weekend

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Travelers wait to board a plane at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, on April 22, 2022.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration are pointing the finger at one another over a rising rate of flight cancellations and delays, just as tens of millions prepare to travel on the July Fourth weekend that officials expect to be among the many busiest in three years.

On Friday, Airlines for America, which represents the country’s largest airlines, including Delta, American, United and Southwest, requested a gathering with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to debate air traffic controller staffing for the summer and other potential obstacles like space launches and military exercises.

“The industry is actively and nimbly doing all the pieces possible to create a positive customer experience because it is in an airline’s inherent interest to maintain customers completely satisfied, in order that they return for future business,” Airlines for America CEO Nick Calio wrote within the letter.

Airlines have grappled with staffing shortages after travel demand bounced back faster than they were prepared for, despite government aid that prohibited them from shedding staff throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Plus, the pandemic slowed training of air traffic controllers.

Each aspects have made it difficult to navigate routine issues like thunderstorms throughout the spring and summer as Covid infections continued to sideline employees and frustrate travelers.

U.S. airlines have reduced their June-August schedules by 15% compared with their original plans, the letter from Airlines for America said.

United on Thursday announced it would cut 50 every day flights from its Newark Liberty International Airport hub in Recent Jersey starting next month in an try to ease congestion and delays. Delta, JetBlue Airways, and Spirit and Frontier airlines have also trimmed schedules.

The FAA shot back at airlines for urging 1000’s of employees to take buyouts or leaves of absence throughout the pandemic, despite federal aid.

“People expect after they buy an airline ticket that they will get where they should go safely, efficiently, reliably and affordably,” the agency said in response to the industry letter. “After receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief to assist save the airlines from mass layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people should have their expectations met.”

The FAA has said it has beefed up staffing at a key air traffic control center in Florida and that it added alternate routes to ease congestion.

Brett Snyder, founding father of the Cranky Flier travel website, said: “It’s hard to assign fault because everyone’s at fault.”

“Because demand is so high, the airlines try to fly as much as they’ll,” Snyder said. “People think fares are high now, imagine if airlines flew less.”

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