Thousands of travelers were left stranded on Monday after two of the country’s largest airlines canceled almost 1,000 flights.
American Airlines canceled or delayed 1,500 flights on Monday – more than half of their scheduled itinerary – with its Dallas/Fort Worth hub bearing the brunt.
The airline canceled 562 flights on Monday, representing 18 per cent of all their departures, and saw a further 32 per cent – 979 flights – delayed, according to FlightAware.com.
Spirit canceled 400 on Sunday and Monday, with Spirit’s toll accounting for 30 percent of its scheduled flights nationwide. Orlando and Fort Lauderdale were hard hit, with 40 per cent of Orlando’s flights canceled or delayed on Monday, and 37 per cent of Fort Lauderdale’s.
Despite rising numbers of coronavirus infections fueled by the delta variant, the U.S. set another recent high mark for air travel Sunday, with more than 2.2 million people going through airport checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
That is nearly 11,000 more people screened than July 18, and the highest number since February 28, 2020 – just before the U.S. felt the full brunt of the pandemic.
However, air travel was still down 17 per cent on Sunday from the same Sunday in 2019.
The resurgence of leisure travel, coupled with some bad weather, has led to delays and flight cancellations at airlines struggling to ramp up after being crushed by the pandemic.
Airlines have thousands fewer workers than they did before the pandemic, and at times they have been caught short-staffed even though they received $54 billion in taxpayer money to keep employees on the payroll.
A man is pictured sleeping in San Juan airport in Puerto Rico on Monday, amid widespread cancellations by Spirit and others
Large crowds gathered in Houston as the airlines cancelled a series of flights, leaving many stranded
Passengers in Puerto Rico were complaining about being stranded for 11 hours in San Juan airport
San Juan international airport in Puerto Rico was hard-hit by Spirit’s cancelations, with many people now stuck on the island for days
One Instagram user posted a photo on Sunday of a sign jokingly reading: ‘Pilot wanted’
Passengers were left lying on airport floors for hours as Spirit and American Airlines canceled hundreds of flights
Monday’s cancellations came one day after 7,400 U.S. flights arrived at least 15 minutes behind schedule on Sunday — the government’s definition of late — and more than 900 were canceled, according to tracking service FlightAware.
Nearly half of Sunday’s cancellations were at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, American’s largest hub, which was hit with afternoon and evening thunderstorms.
There have been at least 5,000 delayed flights on most days since early July, according to FlightAware figures.
Southwest, American and Spirit are among airlines with the biggest problems.
For Sunday and Monday combined, Southwest delayed more than 2,500 flights and American more than 1,600.
A key senator is quizzing several airlines to explain the high numbers of flight delays and cancellations.
Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said airlines did a poor job of managing their workforces and might have failed to live up to the purpose of the taxpayer funding.
‘I am deeply concerned by recent reports highlighting…workforce shortages that have caused flight cancellations and generated delays for passengers,’ she wrote in a July 16 letter to the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Republic Airways, and Allegiant Airlines.
‘These shortages come in the wake of unprecedented federal funding that Congress appropriated, at the airlines’ request, to support the airline industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘As passenger travel has boomed in recent weeks, new reports also suggest that some airlines are now unprepared to meet the increased demand that they scheduled for, and have resorted to delaying or canceling flights,’ the Senator continued.
‘This reported workforce shortage runs counter to the objective and spirit of the PSP, which was to enable airlines to endure the pandemic and keep employees on payroll so that the industry was positioned to capture a rebound in demand.’
Cantwell asked each airline to account for its utilization of federal funds and provide further information on current and projected workforce shortages.
Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, said earlier in July that ‘the challenges of getting our airline fully back to the service level our customers expect and deserve is daunting in light of the huge surge in demand that we are experiencing.’
The travel recovery also faces a renewed public-health threat, as the number of new cases of COVID-19 continues to rise.
The seven-day rolling average of new U.S. infections is around 80,000 a day, up nearly 150% from two weeks ago, although the increase in deaths is far smaller.
Airline officials say they haven’t seen bookings suffer because of the delta variant, although some have said it could delay the return of business travel, which airlines were hoping would gain speed this fall.
Travelers took to social media to vent their frustrations from airports in cities such as San Juan, Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale while they waited for updates from Spirit.
The airline tweeted on Monday morning that there were delays, but then fell silent – to the fury of passengers.
Photos and videos showed the travelers seated on the ground as they complained of being hot and hungry in packed terminals.
One woman tweeted that the ground staff in Puerto Rico walked out.
‘Confirming. I was there. They were temp workers and they literally took off their badges and said “f*** this,”’ she tweeted.
‘They were lead by security through an underground tunnel out of the airport for their “safety”.’
Rumors of a pilot strike began circulating online before a Spirit spokesperson quashed that speculation and said the cancellations were due to weather and ‘other operational challenges’.
Thousands of Spirit Airlines passengers have been stranded in airports for hours after the budget-friendly carrier canceled 30 percent of its scheduled flights nationwide. Photos and videos posted by travelers venting their frustrations on social media showed them seated on dirty airport floors as they complained of being hot and hungry in packed terminals
While rumors began circulating of a strike, a spokesperson for Spirit quickly denied those rumors, citing weather and ‘other operational challenges’ as the culprit for the delays
Following the cancellations, many passengers began voicing their frustration online, commenting on long waits for refunds, missing luggage, and other customer service challenges
‘We’re working around the clock to get back on track in the wake of some travel disruptions over the weekend due to a series of weather and operational challenges,’ Sprit spokesperson Erik Hofmeyer told the Sun Sentinel in an email.
‘We needed to make proactive cancellations to some flights across the network, but the majority of flights are still scheduled as planned,’ he added.
Passengers flying on Spirit Airlines were stranded for hours after the budget-friendly carrier canceled 30% of its scheduled flights nationwide, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.com
Following the cancellations, many passengers began sharing their woes on Twitter, describing long waits for refunds, missing luggage, and other customer service challenges.
One passenger even complained about waiting in line for almost seven hours.
‘Update, been here in line almost 7 hrs. I’m tired, hungry, hot and I’m finally close to the front. @SpiritAirlines No comment on what’s going…’ they wrote.
‘This is absolutely ridiculous. First fight was delayed. Twice. Then canceled. Got my flight changed to a different airport. Then THAT flight got canceled. Then went to the desks and all the spirit employees left and refused to come back to help us!’ another user tweeted.
A third passenger commented on agents refusing to assist guests after waiting in line four hours.
‘What’s worse is the fact only two people are actually assisting guests when the other agent assist line are refusing people. Been on the phone for almost 2 hours waiting on an agent to fix this mess as well,’ they wrote.
One passenger said he and his family were stranded overnight in Puerto Rico, without any clothes or essentials for his one and three-year-olds.
‘When #spiritairlines leaves you stranded in Puerto Rico with no employees in sight and holds your luggage and money hostage. We were stuck overnight with no clothes or essentials for our 3 or 1 year olds and are still without answers and searching for flights,’ he wrote on Twitter.
Carolyn Fennell, an Orlando airport spokeswoman, speculated that COVID-19 also played a factor in the cancellations.
‘I think the question of why it’s happening is a combination of weather with afternoon storms and lightning; airline staffs are reduced by COVID not just here but across the nation and you’ve got a huge spike in travel,’ she told the Sun Sentinel.
‘It’s all of that, a perfect storm.’
Spirit did not immediately return DailyMail.com’s request for comment.