If you’ve flown recently, or attempted to, it might have gone something like this: Your 1 p.m. flight became a 5 p.m. flight became a midnight flight before being summarily canceled. No explanation is given. The next flights out are already fully booked, but they have a middle seat with two stopovers leaving next week if that still works for you.
We’ve put up with so much from airlines. Food on airplanes is now limited to crackers and a shot glass of soda. We pay exorbitant amounts to check baggage. Only some people get to bring a carry-on bag on the plane. We pay to choose our seat. A seat, by the way, that is designed for someone who is 4’8” and 95 pounds. They’ve tortured us in a variety of ways.
We dealt with it because they got us from point A to point B swiftly and safely. Sometimes it was even cheaply. We accepted the continued downgrading of service because they had something we wanted that only they could deliver. But airlines are not keeping up their end of the bargain. We’re missing meetings, events, family time and more because they just can’t get their act together.
According to FlightAware, a website that tracks flight cancellations and delays, there were 1,629 delays and 631 cancellations “within, into, or out of the United States” just Sunday. This was only by noon. Cancellations and delays become more likely as the day progresses.
Why are these frequent delays happening? Airlines cite post-pandemic demand being high. That’s probably true, but people are excitedly booking seats on flights that allegedly exist only to have them not exist when it’s time to travel. That’s not the fault of demand.
Airlines have an abundance of other reasons. They blame “understaffing at the Federal Aviation Administration.” They point the finger at “weather” or “unscheduled absences among staff.”
Then there’s the pilot shortage. Why would there be a pilot shortage, the average flyer screams into the void. In one of the dumbest moves possible, pilots were encouraged to retire early to avoid being laid off during the pandemic.
But here is exactly where the poor performance of airlines becomes a bigger deal than just a business failing to deliver quality service to the customer. Throughout the last two years, airlines received more than $50 billion in pandemic-relief money. Our money. Congress has tried to demand answers about how that money was spent, but just like all of their other boondoggles, they could not come up with any clear answers.
That money was meant to preserve jobs and save an industry. Pilots, pretty important to the whole flying thing, should never have been encouraged off the job. Instead, the industry is in disarray, staff were laid off anyway and the money is gone.
Some airlines kept demanding their employees get the COVID-19 vaccine well into 2022 despite the employment crisis. Any employee with a vaccine exemption was placed on paid leave, which seems like a poor usage of taxpayer dollars, until the airlines finally relented. Anyone without an exemption was fired. It didn’t make sense, and we are all paying for it now.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had his own flight canceled recently and was forced to drive from Washington to New York. Now he’s saying his department can force the airlines to hire more staff. That might work for some roles, but pilots aren’t, ahem, transportation secretaries. They have to actually have experience and know what they’re doing. Buttigieg had no previous transportation experience before being picked for this role. A pilot can’t exactly similarly fake it until they make it.
Perhaps the real lesson here is the federal government should stop handing out free cash with no strings attached even in times of crisis. Here’s hoping every elected official whose flight is delayed two hours, six hours or eventually canceled remembers they gave this industry the money to treat us like this. And then let’s hope they don’t do it again.