Airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights to the US on Thursday, one of the worst days to travel due to the height of the summer holiday season.
More than a third of all flights have been wiped out at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, while more than a quarter of flights have been jettisoned at nearby Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, according to FlightAware tracking service.
The cancellations come less than three weeks after airlines kicked off the summer travel season, canceling about 2,800 flights in five days over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
And it came as airline executives held a virtual meeting with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, indicative of the Biden administration’s concern about the prospect of confusing airports and unhappy travelers this summer.
“I made it clear to them that this is the moment we really count on them to deliver passengers reliably,” Buttigieg told NBC News.
During the meeting, which was held via videoconference, Buttigieg asked the CEOs to describe the steps they are taking to keep things running smoothly over the July 4 holiday and through the end of the summer, according to a person familiar with the call but not authorized to discuss it publicly. .
Buttigieg also pushed airlines to look into whether they can handle published schedules and improve customer service, the source said.
Airlines for America head of trade group Nicholas Calio said in a statement that industry representatives appreciated the opportunity to speak with Buttigieg and “discuss our shared commitment to prioritizing the safety and security of all travelers.”
Airlines are struggling with a shortage of workers, especially pilots, which is preventing them from operating all scheduled flights. Pilot unions Delta, American and Southwest said their airlines were too slow to replace pilots who retired or went on vacation early in the pandemic.
This month, two Democratic senators said the holiday weekend “raises questions about airline decision-making.” Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Massachusetts’ Edward Markey say flight delays and cancellations “are so common that they’re almost an expected part of travel.”
Airlines blame the bad weather on the Federal Aviation Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation that manages the country’s airspace. In a letter to senators, Calio listed a long list of FAA delays and staffing issues over the holiday weekend.
This spring, airlines have clashed with the FAA over delays in Florida, where air traffic has recovered faster than in many other parts of the country. After meeting with airline representatives in May, the FAA agreed to increase staffing at an air traffic control center near Jacksonville and make other changes.
Worries about flight problems arise when the number of air passengers in the US exceeds 2.2 million per day. That’s still about 300,000 less a day…