By Marnie Hunter, CNN
Air traffic disruptions have plagued summer travelers, and this past weekend was no exception.
Friday was the worst day for cancellations since mid-June, with 1,613 US flights canceled, according to data from flight tracking site FlightAware. And the cancellations continued to pile up over the weekend.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is not happy with the ongoing chaos of air travel and is calling on travelers to share their experiences.
While Buttigieg acknowledged that severe weather this weekend disrupted air travel, it “shouldn’t have created the kind of ripple effects through the system that it did.
“This is something that to me is an indication that we still haven’t seen the improvements that we need, that the system is very fragile,” Buttigieg said Wednesday on CNN’s New Day.
He said the “human factor” is the biggest contributor to heavy air traffic.
“There are not enough crew, especially pilots, to do the job. And airlines, of course, have an obligation to service the tickets they sell,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg met with airlines ahead of July 4, calling for more realistic schedules, more pilot training and more responsive customer service. He said the meeting also addressed how the Federal Aviation Administration can help ease disruptions.
Airlines have shortened their schedules in advance to ease disruptions. American Airlines announced flight cuts in September and October last week.
The Transportation Department last week proposed a rule that would expand protections for travelers seeking refunds, and the Secretary invited the public to weigh in on the rule and file complaints when airlines don’t respond.
The proposed rule would more clearly define when flights are significantly changed or canceled to provide a clearer path for refunds, in addition to creating greater consumer protections related to the pandemic.
‘A good start’
The proposed rule’s posting on Regulations.gov had more than 400 comments Wednesday morning.
One commenter, Natalia Villegas, agreed that more consumer protections are needed.
“The current ruling on when consumers are entitled to compensation is very vague and makes it nearly impossible for a consumer to see any kind of compensation,” Villegas wrote, noting a year-long fight to get a flight refund.
Another commenter said it was “a good start” but that it “doesn’t go far enough”. That commenter, Carol Poindexter, would like to see monetary compensation for delayed flights.
Buttigieg told CNN that his biggest frustration is with the cancellations, noting that his flight was canceled on Friday.
Air traffic chaos has escalated amid rising prices and a very profitable quarter for airlines.
Buttigieg acknowledged the public’s frustration with airlines that have received federal aid during the pandemic.
“I think a lot of passengers don’t understand how more than $50 billion goes into keeping these businesses in business, and then when the demand comes back … they’re not prepared to meet or service that demand.”
He said that while employment has returned in most areas, airlines are still short of pilots, partly due to early retirements. Recent wage increases imposed by some regional carriers should help recruit and retain more pilots, he said.
But the lack of a pilot will likely take some time to correct, an analyst recently told CNN.
“Many pilots retired. It’s not easy to replace them,” said Jim Corridore, senior knowledge manager for research firm Similarweb. “It’s a long process, it will still take a year or so for airlines to have a full schedule that this level of demand will dictate.”
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CNN’s Chris Isidore and Pete Muntean contributed to this report. Top image: Extremely long security lines stretch past the terminal building and onto the road outside Kahului Airport in Maui, Hawaii, on August 1. (Gado/Getty Images)