SAN FRANCISCO - The Fourth of July weekend will test, to the max, this week's already poor performance of the U.S. airline industry.
It's one thing to get delayed – it's quite another to get cancelled.
"The problem is, if you miss a flight or something is cancelled, it's even harder to get on something now," said passenger Bill Zwolinski.
In just the first three days of this week, 32,000 flights have been impacted; 17% of those flights have been flat-out cancelled.
Bianca Taylor is relocating to the South Bay.
"People are missing big things, you know, graduations, funerals, things like that. It's just, it's just heartbreaking," said Taylor at United Airlines' baggage claim.
Her experience was all too typical.
"Took me about an hour and a half to get my luggage, two-and-a-half hours to stand in line to get a hotel voucher. I had to stay in a hotel in Atlanta, like a Comfort Inn in Atlanta for another day, and then they delayed my flight again today," Taylor said.
Domingo Herrera is a just-arrived Milwaukee passenger.
- United CEO Scott Kirby slams FAA for flight cancellations, delays
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- Nationwide flight disruptions strand thousands of travelers
"They cancelled it randomly with no reason, no warning. They put me for the following day, and they couldn't even give me a direct flight I had originally, I had to go all the way to San Diego and catch a connecting flight to here," Herrera said.
Despite $54 billion in federal pandemic support handed over to the nation's airlines to keep people working, the airlines offered buyouts and early retirements. Add to that, many of their oldest planes were taken out of service.
Now, airlines find themselves with a shortage of staffing in general and a growing shortage of pilots with a long period of retraining for replacements. The result: the number of seats available is about 10% lower than before the pandemic.
On the other end, the FAA reports a lack of air traffic controllers. Throw in bad weather at any of several key airports such as Atlanta, Chicago, or New York, and chaos is sure to ensue.
"Go to flightrights.gov and get more information about what you are owed in the event that you get stuck, and the airlines are responsible. What you can expect in terms of hotels, meals, vouchers," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
You do have rights. It's better to review them before you fly than scramble to look them up when bad luck strikes.