Passengers arrive at O’Hare International Airport on June 30, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. Travel forecasters are predicting record-breaking travel for the Fourth of July weekend, but this year’s celebrations could also be a battle with the elements.

Kamil Krzaczynski | AFP | Getty Images

Flight delays and cancellations continued to frustrate thousands of Fourth of July travelers on Friday United Airlines passengers bear the brunt of the problems.

The Transportation Security Administration expects 17.7 million people to screen from June 29 to July 5, with a peak of more than 2.8 million on Friday. That would be a one-day record for daily showings and one of the clearest signs yet of a strong recovery in air travel from the Covid pandemic.

More than 4,800 American flights were delayed Friday, although United had more delays than competitors.

By 5 p.m. Friday, the carrier had canceled more than 230 mainline flights, 8% of its traffic, with more than 790 flights, or more than a quarter of its schedule, delayed, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

That was still much less than Thursday’s disruption and a marked improvement from last weekend, when storms along the East Coast unleashed chaos at some of the nation’s busiest airports. Some airline executives blamed the Federal Aviation Administration’s shortage of air traffic controllers for exacerbating their customers’ problems.

Customers stretched out at airports throughout the week, waiting for hours for flight information or new flight schedules, with seats on other flights or other airlines scarce. They also faced long customer service lines and lost bags.

Even the CEO of United Airlines couldn’t get a job from the New York area. On Wednesday, Scott Kirby took a private jet from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Denver, Colorado.

An airline spokeswoman told CNBC that United had not paid for his flight. Kirby apologized to staff and passengers on Friday for taking a private jet when so many others were stranded.

“Taking off on a private jet was a bad decision because it was insensitive to our customers who were waiting to get home,” Kirby said in a statement to CNBC. “I sincerely apologize to our customers and to our team members who have been working around the clock for several days – often in inclement weather – to take care of our customers.

“Having watched our team firsthand with our customers at four different airports and in countless meetings this week, it’s clear to me that they represent the best of United, and I’m sorry to have distracted from their professionalism,” he continued. “I promise to better demonstrate my respect for the dedication of our team members and the loyalty of our customers.”

United said on Friday afternoon that their performance was improving over the holiday weekend. The airline is offering waivers to affected passengers to rebook their journeys without paying the difference in fares.

But he also warned that: “Storms in Denver, Chicago and the East Coast will continue to be an issue, but most of today’s cancellations were made in advance to give customers time to adjust.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday called out United for last week’s challenges, saying the airline’s outages are “increased but moving in the right direction.”

Airlines are under political and public pressure to operate reliably after their over-ambitious schedules and understaffing exacerbated common problems such as bad weather. The struggles come as travel demand rebounds from pandemic lows.

More storms and problems such as wildfire smoke from Canada are likely to plague airlines in the coming days, although the worst of this week’s disruptions have largely subsided. (Of course, if your flight is canceled or delayed, here it is what the airlines owe you.)

More than 42,000 flights operated by U.S. airlines were delayed between Saturday and Thursday, and more than 7,900 were completely cleared, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. More than 5% of US flight schedules were cancelled, about four times the cancellation rate this year.

During that six-hour period, half of United’s mainline flights arrived late, reaching an average delay of 106 minutes, according to FlightAware data. Another 19% of his plan was cancelled.

Union leaders blamed United for some of the problems that stranded crews along with passengers during the disruption. Flight disruptions often snowball as crews and planes are out of position and long delays can cause them to run into federally mandated work limits.

United is offering flight attendants triple pay for pickup shifts during the peak holiday season.

“United’s management’s failure to properly staff crew planners, the flight attendant support team and others exacerbated these operational problems, leaving passengers and flight attendants waiting for hours for answers,” Ken Diaz, president of the United Association of the Association of United States. Flight attendants, they said in a statement Thursday. “The airline actually ‘lost’ crews in the system for days because there was such a significant lapse in operational control.”

Garth Thompson, a United captain and president of United’s branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, accused the company of not investing in the operation.

“Summer flying can be challenging, but this summer will be one to remember,” he said. “To those who were caught out by unforced errors of management, I am truly sorry.

Both unions are engaged in contract negotiations with the company and are seeking compensation and planning improvements.

A person sits on the ground at JFK International Airport on June 30, 2023 in New York City.

David Dee Delgado | Getty Images

United CEO Kirby wrote to employees Monday that some of the problems last weekend stemmed from a shortage of air traffic control staff, and said “the FAA frankly let us down” when it reduced the number of arrivals and departures at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. United Hub.

The FAA warned of staffing shortages in the New York City area earlier this year, and some airlines agreed to reduce capacity to avoid overloading the system.

“This has led to massive delays, cancellations, diversions, as well as crews and aircraft being out of position,” Kirby wrote in a staff memo seen by CNBC. “And that put everybody in the eighth ball when the weather really hit on Sunday, compounded by the lack of FAA staff on Sunday night.”

JetBlue has also blamed the FAA for similar problems.

“We are working with the FAA to better understand what led to significant and unexpected ATC restrictions this week that affected thousands of flights across carriers,” JetBlue COO Joanna Geraghty said in a memo to employees Wednesday. “The severity and length of the latest programs were worse than we’ve seen in the past with similar weather, and that inconvenienced tens of thousands of our customers and in many cases blamed JetBlue for a situation beyond our control.”

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