Air Get-Aways Go Awry for Thousands

It’s the early weeks of August –- the “lazy dog days” of summer. In D.C., the House of Representatives is closed and the Senate will soon be out for August break. The streets of Georgetown are relatively empty; parking, except around tennis and pickle-ball courts, is relatively available. It’s vacation time. Travel time.

With 70 percent of Americans now vaccinated (at least one shot) –- one month later than President Biden had announced but still in time for summer vacations — expectations were high that August would see the joy of traveling, reuniting with families not gathered for almost two years and celebrating landmark life events like big birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, births and the like that had passed in 2020.  Millions of tax payer pandemic relief dollars were given to airlines, airports and such to be ready for the summer 2021 reopening.

But for tens of thousands of air passengers, that joy is not there. Just on Sunday Aug. 2, 40 percent of Spirit Airlines’ flights, 30 percent of American Airline’s flights and some 42 percent of flights overall were delayed or canceled. On Monday the number of delayed and canceled flights was almost as high, inflicting additional travel changes for thousands of passengers already delayed on Sunday.

Airlines mostly blamed weather and other unspecified overlapping “operational issues” related to getting back up to speed post pandemic. That included hiring and rehiring, training and retraining of flight, maintenance and passenger service crews.

American Airlines, based out of Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) Texas, blamed storms in Texas for the delays and cancellations. “We have experienced cancellations and delays yesterday and today, mainly due to weather and air traffic control impacts at DFW Airport, including two ramp closures yesterday and a ground stop earlier today related to ongoing weather-recovery efforts,” airline officials said via email to The Washington Post. It should all be cleared by Tuesday (August 3).

But that was the same excuse made when this reporter flew to CA from Reagan National Airport via Dallas on July 28. After delays boarding the plane at DCA on a sweltering afternoon, the flight sat closed on the runway — with the air conditioning off and window blinds shut — and then back at the boarding station for almost an hour due to “rain storms in Dallas.” By the time the flight reached Texas by 8 p.m. almost everyone with connecting flights had missed them. On the plane, flight attendants told passengers to try to rebook on their phones, and would not request that those with connecting flights be allowed to leave first.

By the end of the trip on July 13 – booked for over six months – this reporter had gone four-for-four: all four flights delayed or canceled. One for weather and the other three for equipment issues – including a galley door that wouldn’t close. That resulted in hour-long waits while the airlines looked for, brought up and cleaned a replacement aircraft.

But DFW, a major airport that certainly experiences “weather” events every day, seemed totally unprepared to handle thousands of in- transit passengers whose planes had been canceled or delayed until the next day. On June 28, American Airlines had only one very hassled employee to handle hundreds in a line requesting flight re-bookings, and hotel, food and shuttle vouchers. Many did not get them.

Some airports reportedly have jacked up their prices for food as well. At the Biergarten in New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports, a draft of Sam Adams Summer Ale Drought goes for $27.85; a New Belgium Fat Tire Draught is $20.50.

The Wall Street Journal published a suggested Fliers Bill of Rights on August 5. They include: resolve refunds first; let consumer groups know and act to pass legislation; make use of complaints to get future vouchers and discounts, and read the contracts.

None of that helps much when suddenly experiencing delays, especially mid-flight. The press loves stories blaming “unruly” passengers – with almost no explanation why they are unruly – such as 32-hour delays perhaps, or sleeping in airport row seats and darkened planes?

Spirit tweeted advice August 5: if you have a scheduled flight today or questions, please contact the airline BEFORE HEADING TO THE AIRPORT. Check for updates.

Or don’t book anything but direct flights – which limits where one might fly.



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