Another airline meltdown has left flight attendants, pilots sleeping in airports and without hotels
As Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and other carriers faced thousands of cancellations last weekend after technology problems and bad weather in Florida, pilots and flight attendants were left without rooms hotels and sometimes slept on the floors of the airport.
Union leaders for crew members at both airlines say they are frustrated that these types of meltdowns are becoming more common as carriers ramp up flights following the downturn in the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s also a worrying sign with travel demand this summer at its highest in years and flight attendants and pilots fear more suffering is coming for employees and passengers.
“We had hundreds of flight attendants with no place to go,” said Lyn Montgomery, head of the flight attendant union at Southwest Airlines. “It’s happening again and again at an ever-increasing magnitude.”
“It is difficult to work in and under these conditions,” she said.
Nearly 3,500 flights were canceled in the United States on Saturday and Sunday, according to Flightaware.com, and around 9,000 more were delayed. That included more than 900 cancellations at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and about 750 at Fort Worth-based American Airlines. Spirit Airlines and JetBlue encountered similar operational issues.
The problems at Southwest began with a system-wide technology outage following routine nightly upgrades early Saturday morning. It sparked a cascade of flight cancellations that worsened when a thunderstorm system rolled through central Florida. This weather system disrupted flights from Miami to Orlando and Tampa and forced the FAA to restrict the volume of traffic in the area.
“When operational issues canceled flights, delayed trips, and forced our crews who weren’t supposed to spend the night in Florida to miss their day of duty, we quickly ran through the extra rooms we book so proactive for the work crew, and there just weren’t all the hotel rooms we can book and assign,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement. “We are committed to improving so that this kind of shortfall is not imposed on our hard-working teams in the future.”
The company said it is working to adjust the forecast to ensure it has enough hotel rooms scheduled with the forecasted weather issues and that “we apologize for the added stress of not having a room. rest has caused our crews”.
Unfortunately, for crew members and passengers, these types of operational meltdowns have become common over the past year and tend to occur on busy travel weekends. In these cases, thousands of passengers have been stranded across the country with canceled or delayed flights, looking for a way home, just as the airline industry tries to recoup billions of dollars from losses over the past two years.
A combination of stressed crew members and frustrated passengers is a bad mix for Southwest, Montgomery said, and many customers tell him they’re losing faith in the airline after operational difficulties over the past year.
Airlines, including Southwest, have already cut their schedules due to staff shortages that have hit the industry hard in recent months, including shortages of pilots and flight attendants, but also of service employees. behind-the-scenes customer base and staff needed when airline networks run into difficulties.
Pilots and flight attendants rely on airlines to provide transportation to hotels with rooms ready so they can get the rest they need to work flights scheduled for the next day. When crew members can’t sleep the hours required by federal rules, they can’t work, forcing airlines to scramble to find available pilots and flight attendants, compounding delays and cancellations .
“Crew members were forced to sleep on the floor at the airport because they couldn’t reach the hotel/limousine office,” said a letter to members of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants representing American Airlines workers. “Flight attendants waited for hotel rooms over 6 hours after landing, after being on duty for a full day.”
American Airlines, for example, was often unable to track pilots who were on canceled flights, making it difficult to track where they were going, said Allied Pilots Association spokesman Dennis Tajer.
“The company couldn’t get the pilots hotel rooms and they told them to find an Airbnb,” Tajer said. “What happens when we get into the summer and the planes are really full and the operation is actually under stress?”