Last summer, pilot shortages were blamed for flight disruptions across the country—this year, it could be the lack of air traffic controllers. But this time around, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is getting ahead of the issue, giving airlines the chance to adjust their schedules before passengers are affected.
Airlines have been given the opportunity to scale back on slot usage requirements from May 15 to September 15 at the worst-impacted airports: the three NYC airports, plus Washington Reagan National Airport. Airlines are grateful for the heads-up, each taking its own approach to the situation.
Which U.S. airlines are cutting back on summer flights due to the air traffic controller shortage?
Five of the largest airlines in the U.S. are all scaling back summer flights to avoid headaches around the shortage.
“Delta commends the FAA for recognizing shared challenges that exist between the FAA, airports, and airlines at New York and New Jersey airports, and for implementing a coordinated plan to improve operational reliability at these airports, while mitigating flight disruptions for customers during the peak summer travel season,” the Atlanta-based airlines says. It’s currently reviewing its network to “ensure the safety and efficiency of operations” at the affected airports.
Meanwhile American Airlines says it will “temporarily reduce frequencies on select routes” from LaGuardia and Newark this summer, and are “proactively reaching out to affected customers to offer alternate travel arrangements.”
United has taken the most action so far, reducing daily schedules at LaGuardia (the nine daily departures to Dulles will shrink to six), Newark (peak daily departures will go from 438 to 408), and Washington DC’s Reagan (the 18 daily departures to Newark will go down to 10) airports. “In many cases, we’ll replace the frequencies with larger aircraft to minimize the disruption to our customers’ travel plans,” the Chicago-based airline says.
Despite the reductions, the airline will actually fly five percent more seats out of those three airports than they did in the summer of 2019, so they anticipate the changes to affect less than two percent of the customers at those airports, with most of them still getting to their destinations within two hours of their original times.
Smaller airlines have faced less impact. Southwest says since it only operates up to 37 flights from five gates at LaGuardia and 45 flights out of seven gates at Washington Reagan, there won’t be any changes and all current flights are bookable through November 4. JetBlue says it’s been increasing staffing over the last year in anticipation of this upcoming summer season, and is still assessing its schedule reduction.
“While it is disappointing to reduce flights for customers as they plan their summer holidays and as New York City works to rebound from the pandemic, we are pleased the leadership team at the FAA is proactively working to get in front of this and is being transparent about the staffing shortages,” the New York-based carrier says. “With these challenges out in the open, the industry and government can collaborate on necessary steps to reduce disruption to summer travel and solve the staffing shortages.”
How is the FAA fixing the air traffic controller shortage?
Air traffic controllers (ATCs) just might be the unsung hero of the industry, guiding pilots, planes, and 2.7 million daily passengers safely from taxi to takeoff. But the National Airspace System (NAS) is currently near a 30-year low in the number of certified controllers, National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Rich Santa wrote in a testimony to the House of Representatives last month.