Recent Wave of Airline Delays, Cancellations Indicates Rocky Pandemic Recovery

A recent wave of airline delays and cancellations has affected much of the country, including Chicago.

Just yesterday, 45% of flights out of O’Hare International Airport were delayed, according to flight tracker FlightAware. After experiencing unprecedented airline delays and cancellations this summer, the recent wave is another indication of a rocky pandemic recovery for airlines.

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American Airlines pilots took part in informational picketing downtown on July 26 to raise awareness about what they say are difficult working conditions and company failures.

The airline industry received $54 billion in federal taxpayer aid during the pandemic to help cover labor costs, according to CNBC.

Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, a union representing American Airlines pilots, says the situation needs to be fixed.

“It’s at management’s feet … They weren’t prepared for the recovery,” Tajer said. “They didn’t have pilots trained like they were supposed to with the $54 billion investment.”

Representatives for American Airlines did not respond to a request to appear.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed more protections for airline travelers who experience flight cancellations or significant flight schedule changes.

Pilots are also raising alarms around issues like fatigue. 

Tajer said the Federal Aviation Administration mandates pilots don’t fly when they’re fatigued.

“But here’s the catch: when you’re fatigued, the first thing that goes is your judgment,” Tajer said.

“We’re going to hold up that margin of safety against that pressure, but we’re human,” Tajer said. “You’ve got to stop pushing us.”

Joseph Schwieterman, a professor in the School for Public Service at DePaul University, said that while airlines might not want to admit it, they incentivized too many pilots to retire during the pandemic, which has led to a rocky recovery.

Tajer said there are no quick fixes, and that American Airlines is behind six to seven months in getting pilots trained.

For travelers looking to book a flight or find themselves with a canceled flight, Schwieterman recommends arriving at the airport with a Plan B in mind. He suggests bringing a book or food.

“Plan mentally how you’re going to handle being with thousands of other people who often are stuck,” Schwieterman said. “A lot of people come in the airport [and] they’re psychologically spent before the trip even starts.”

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