Skift Take

Airline operations are in shambles this summer. What happened?

Airports are busy and planes are crowded as the airline industry nears pre-pandemic travel numbers. In the U.S. over the weekend of June 24, security screening numbers were the highest since February 2020 and down just 8 percent compared to the same weekend in 2019. But the return of travelers is proving more difficult for the industry than many thought it would be. Thousands of flights have been preemptively removed from airline schedules this summer in the face of staffing and other issues. In the U.S., trade group Airlines for America (A4A) estimates that 15 percent of planned summer flights have already been cut from June through August. And the flights that do operate face a long list of potential issues, from crew availability to air traffic control and airport staffing, and weather. In Europe, images of thousands of stranded bags at London's Heathrow airport, and security queues snaking out of the terminal at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport have grabbed headlines. From June 1-23, roughly 2 percent of all flights in Europe were cancelled, according to Cirium data. That's not a wholly bad number but not great for an industry that strives to complete more than 99 percent of its flights. How We Got Here One must rewind to the early days of pandemic in 2020. Airlines faced a historic collapse in travel demand with, for example in the U.S., traveler numbers hitting levels unseen since the 1950s. The industry had to shrink, and fast. To survive, airlines offered early retirement, voluntary departure, and unpaid leave packages to staff to reduce their payrolls. U.S. carriers were barred from involuntarily furloughing employees under the federal CARES Act relief measure that was signed into law in March 2020. Elsewhere, they were not as lucky with many furloughing or laying off staff, filing for ban