When Airlines Cancel Flights Due To Staffing, They Lack The Staff To Help Passengers Too

Airline operations have been bad lately. They haven’t had enough staff to operate their flights, so they’ve cancelled flights in advance – and still haven’t had enough staff to operate the flights that are left. Delta cancelled 7% of flights on Sunday. American cancelled over 100 flights. United cancelled nearly as many.

  • They’ll blame weather, and that’s true, but weather happens every year and they haven’t had the margins to respond to it. Weather fouls things up most when there’s no staffing buffer.

  • They’ll blame FAA air traffic control staffing, and that’s true, but U.S. air traffic control has been hobbled for years, mostly because it’s provided directly by government. Separate entities handle air traffic control in Europe and Canada, and they’re better able to make long-term investments in technology (U.S. ATC is only just moving beyond paper flight strips!). Airlines have sought only more government spending subsidies, rather than driving for real reform.

None of the other problems mask the fact that the airlines have problems, and those problems spiral because they’re self-reinforcing.

  • Lack of staff leads to snarled operations
  • Snarled operations leads to need for more staff, to service customers who need rebooking

The lack of staff for rebooking is probably most frustrating of all. American Airlines adopted the slogan ‘caring for people on life’s journey’ but where’s the caring when they don’t have people to help passengers after they cancel flights? And this is after transferring hundreds of people from reservations to the airport, leaving reservations more short-handed.

One employee just left, now there's only one employee to help all these people @AmericanAir Shame on you!!! pic.twitter.com/4v8WbviKDg

— Darian Woolbright (@DarianWoolbrigh) June 27, 2022

What’s this long line for at @CLTAirport ✈️ B CONCOURSE? It’s the LINE FOR @AmericanAir CUSTOMER SERVICE. @Queen_City_News so many people begging/ crying they can’t get home. #Delayed #Cancelled pic.twitter.com/ShqxyeoV10

— ALICIA BARNES (@AliciaBarnesTV) June 27, 2022

Spent hours at DFW airport only to have our flight canceled by @AmericanAir hundreds if not thousands of people displaced tonight because of all the cancelations. We walked miles between terminals because they kept changing our gate. Do better American airlines. pic.twitter.com/hXoMtPo67W

— Brianna Davis (@BriannaD011) June 26, 2022

When I need reservations help at the airport my first stop is usually the airline’s lounge. If you don’t have access, or the lounge is closed, get in line for customer service. But while you’re in line, call the airline. They may pick up the phone before you get to the front of the line. Position yourself to be waiting for both simultaneously. And while you’re on hold waiting for reservations, direct message the airline for help on Twitter.

Don’t call the main reservations line, either. Delta has a special number for travel within 48 hours where they actually usually answer the phone. American’s UK and Sydney reservations lines don’t usually have nearly so bad a wait.

Travel earlier in the day, get to the airport early, book cancellable backup flights with miles, and be proactive coming up with alternate itineraries. Use a credit card that offers trip delay (and baggage delay) coverage. Consider throwing in the towel on a travel day and booking a hotel room – make your unanticipated stay part of the trip. Have patience and enjoy unplanned parts of your trip.

Airlines were supposed to stay fully staffed, with staff ready to work, in exchange for more than $50 billion in direct cash subsidies from taxpayers (plus $25 billion in subsidized loans and more payments to airline contractors). They did not do this. So now we’re paying twice.

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