Airline Pilots Say They’re Just as Frustrated With Summer Flight Cancellations as Travelers

As flight delays and cancellations continue to top the news ahead of the hectic Fourth of July travel weekend, passengers aren’t the only ones frustrated with the unreliable state of air travel—pilots are too.

“We’re tired of standing in front of our guests and saying we’re sorry,” says Captain Casey A. Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. .”

While factors like an uptick in travelers and more thunderstorms usually have an effect on summer flight schedules, this year’s disruptions have been extreme. For example, before noon on Tuesday there were already more than 2,000 flight cancellations and 12,000 delays—including 505 cancellations and 1,221 delays in the US—according to Flight Aware.

While pilot shortages are playing a role in the trouble, the issue is multi-layered and has been heading in this direction since before the pandemic. “We started seeing issues five years ago,” says Murray, who has been flying for three decades, including the 15 years with Southwest. “It’s the misuse of pilots and the inability to efficiently connect pilots to airplanes.”

Pilots at Southwest have been so frustrated, they recently held a demonstration at Dallas Love Field airport to highlight how the current situation is causing fatigue and stress among their ranks. More than 1,000 pilots, led by the union, showed up to the informational picket.

For Southwest, which has 9,600 pilots who operate on a point-to-point system (as opposed to other airlines that rely on hubs), sending just one pilot off their anticipated course can have a spiral effect on the entire system. pilots are being reassigned about 30 to 50 percent of the time, meaning the airline is constantly trying to play catch up to steer every pilot back to the right place, causing a complex cascade of issues that spirals down to the passengers having to wait for their pilots.

Murray says on one recent day, he even saw the reassignment rate at 85 percent. To solve the woes, scheduling needs to be more efficient in addition to hiring and training more pilots.

For their part, Southwest representatives note the airline has had one of the lowest cancellation rates among carriers since the beginning of May and have hired more than 14,500 employees in the last 12 months. “For 51 years, we’ve maintained a Southwest culture that honors our valued employees.”

But it’s not just Southwest’s pilots who are burning out. Over at Delta, where there are nearly 14,000 pilots, the inefficiencies have had such an impact that pilots are raising flags in a different way: They issued an open letter to customers on June 16, stating that at the current rate of overtime hours they’re flying, they’ll fly more overtime in 2022 by the fall than they did in 2018 and 2019 combined. But they also promised to always “prioritize safety—every day and on every flight .”

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