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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.

Airline labor problems aren’t going away

Major carriers are staffing up, but strains on workers could disrupt your travel plans beyond the summer

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)
9 min

Thousands of passengers across the country had their flights canceled or delayed last week — becoming another line item on the list of travel meltdowns to make headlines this year. While storm systems were the culprit for the most recent hiccups, Newark Liberty International Airport alerts also cited staffing.

“Two things can be true at the same time,” said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

Bad weather can have a snowball effect, causing logistics mayhem. Flight crews get held up on the tarmac, unable to work their next flight on time. Nelson argues that airline staffing models don’t provide enough give in the system to accommodate such problems smoothly.

“You can’t lose one person,” she said. “It’s stretched very thin, so there are just fewer employees responding to customer needs and demands and handling the issues.”

When mass delays and cancellations occur, furious and confused travelers vent on Twitter, questioning why staffing issues were affecting their flights. According to the latest air travel consumer report from the Transportation Department, there was about a 35 percent increase in service complaints from May to June, and complaints are nearly 270 percent above pre-pandemic levels.

Shouldn’t the billions of dollars in federal aid have helped solve the labor mess by now?

Taxpayers spent billions bailing out airlines. Did the industry hold up its end of the deal?