Airlines cancel hundreds of weekend flights as storms rage through Florida

Airlines have canceled hundreds of weekend flights and thousands more were delayed as Florida thunderstorms slowed traffic at one of the country’s major travel destinations during spring break.

More than 5,900 U.S. flights were delayed and 1,930 were canceled on Saturday, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

Thunderstorms are especially challenging for airlines because they are more difficult to predict and plan compared to other systems such as winter storms and hurricanes, where airlines often cancel flights hours or even days in advance.

Disruptions from storms tend to cascade as crews and aircraft are left out of position for their assignments.

Southwest Airlines canceled 520 flights, or 14% of its Saturday schedule, plus 1,512 delays, or 43% of scheduled flights, according to FlightAware. About 10% of Southwest flights on Sunday were canceled and another 10% were delayed, nearly 800 flights in all.

Before the storms caused delays in Florida, the airline briefly interrupted departures early in the day to run checks on a backend system it had reset as part of regular overnight maintenance. Those systems are used for tasks, including pre-departure paperwork.

“Our top priorities are protecting our Crew network, ensuring Crews has hotel rooms and minimizing the impacts our customers feel while we work to avoid disruptions to their spring break travel plans,” Southwest said in a message to flight attendants. . “These situations are never easy and we thank you for your patience and perseverance as we work our way through this challenging weekend.”

The airline waived fare differentials for affected customers so they can rebook themselves online without having to wait on the phone, a spokesman said.

Air traffic controllers had delayed or completely interrupted inbound traffic at several Florida airports on Saturday, including Orlando International Airport, Miami International Airport and Tampa International Airport. Nearly a third of Orlando departures were canceled and 42% were delayed.

“Yesterday’s Weather Near Florida and Resultant” [air traffic control] initiatives impacted our operations, affecting most northern and southern routes through and into Florida, American Airlines said in a statement. “We are recovering from those disruptions today.”

More than 65,000 American Airlines customers, including those on regional airlines, were affected by the disruptions on Saturday, according to an internal count seen by Slice Mag. About a third of the cancellations were related to lack of crew availability.

Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association that represents US pilots, said the airline needs to improve its technology to better enable pilots to pick up flights when there are disruptions.

Delta Air Lines said Florida weather also affected Saturday’s operation. About a fifth of Delta and American schedules were delayed, about 600 flights each. American also had canceled 363 flights, or 12%, while Delta had canceled 238, or 8%.

On Sunday, more than 300 U.S. main flights were canceled or delayed, while Delta had 26 canceled flights and 188 delays.

A quarter of Spirit Airlines’ flights on Sunday were cancelled, compared to 27% on Saturday. About 25% of JetBlue Airways flights were canceled on Sunday, 20% were delayed. The New York-based airline has a large presence in Florida and the northeastern US

Airlines are currently rushing to deploy staff to meet travel demand that has surged as Covid cases declined this winter. Staff shortages exacerbated flight disruptions last year.

Pilots of Delta, American and Alaska Airlines have been pecking at airports in recent weeks as their unions push airline management for better pay and more predictable schedules.

Alaska Airlines canceled more than 100 flights on Friday and nearly 80 more on Saturday. Some of its pilots had pecked at several West Coast airports on Friday due to a lack of progress in contract negotiations with the airline.

“In addition to other airlines, we continue to be affected by a national shortage of pilots and the required training regime to onboard new pilots,” the airline said in a statement, which did not name the pickets.

Airlines have increased their flights to accommodate customers returning after two difficult pandemic years, but pilots and flight attendant unions have often complained about overcrowded schedules and stress on the road, such as a lack of hotel rooms or difficulty reaching airport scheduling services. Company.

“The sticking point has been getting everyone to train as we ramped up the airline and put planes back into service during the pandemic,” Spirit Airlines CEO Ted Christie told an industry event Thursday.