Up in the Air

Widespread flight disruptions have derailed summer vacation plans across the globe. What is going on with air travel?


Rampant flight cancellations and delays have disrupted air travel across the U.S. and the world. What is contributing to these unprecedented disruptions?

  • A combination of bad weather, pilot shortages, staff shortages, and a surge in summer travel contributed to four days of record cancellations over Memorial Day and Juneteenth weekends, with no signs of abating. Consumer complaints quadrupled in April compared with before Covid. 
  • The Biden Administration tried to blame airlines for the shortages, but the airlines blamed federal officials. Corporate leaders said the understaffed Federal Aviation Administration and a shortage of air traffic controllers are to blame for ensnarling air traffic on the East Coast. 
  • Airlines cancelled 860 flights Sunday and 700 flights early Monday. On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration screened 2.45 million passengers, the highest daily number since February 2020, before the pandemic. 
  • It is nearly impossible for airline worker unions to strike under federal law, so airline workers are exploiting the cancellations to call for higher wages. 1,300 pilots protested in Dallas last week and Delta and American pilots tried to win public support in their negotiations with their airlines. 
  • Alaska Airlines announced a new deal covering 5,300 ground personnel, but negotiations are ongoing with the Alaska Airline pilots union, who already voted to authorize a strike. United agreed to hike pilot pay by 14 percent in a new 2-year agreement concluded Friday. 
  • European airlines have been forced to cancel thousands of flights. Labor strikes and shortages have paralyzed major airports in the U.K., France, Spain, and Norway. Airliners embarked on a hiring spree to combat these shortages but disruptions will likely continue for weeks.

reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • CNN covered Sunday’s wave of cancellations. Delta told CNN the cancellations were caused by “higher-than-planned unscheduled absences,” weather, and air traffic control staffing shortages. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta suffered the most cancellations on Sunday. 
  • The Biden administration seems to have one strategy for dealing with crises: when in doubt, blame others. Axios reports Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is weighing punishing airlines for flight disruptions, saying they may “not abide by consumer-protection standards.” 
  • New York Times published a long feature on the struggles “gender-diverse travelers” face. All passengers must select “male or “female” on their tickets, which some non-binary passengers describe as “really strange” as “only two” airlines offer a nonbinary option.


  • Fox News reported the trade group representing airlines requested a meeting with the FAA to discuss the air traffic control shortages they blame for cancelled flights. 
  • Breitbart linked skyrocketing inflation to airline staff’s demands for higher wages. 
  • The Washington Examiner blamed the cancellations on the “tough labor market” as airlines struggle to find qualified new pilots and reduce some qualifications like the requirement to have a four-year college degree.

Author’s Take

Returning to the pre-pandemic normal will apparently be a difficult process in nearly every major aspect of American life. While several factors are contributing to the disruptions to U.S. air travel, labor shortages of both airline staff and air traffic controllers seem to be the most consequential. The Biden administration seems to be once again behind the eight-ball on yet another critical issue affecting Americans’ quality of life. Secretary Buttigieg blames corporate greed, just like the Biden team’s rhetoric about grocery store shortages or high gas prices. When your only tool is a hammer….

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© Dominic Moore, 2022