Passengers, including Claude Ronnie Msowoya and his family, faced a frustrating flight chaos as they attempted to reach Johannesburg, South Africa. However, they were compelled to return home by train without their luggage as reported by Aol.
According to Msowoya, their United Airlines flight from Boston to Newark airport was delayed on Sunday, resulting in a missed connection for their United Airlines flight to Johannesburg. Although they were rebooked on another United Airlines flight scheduled for Monday evening, that flight was also cancelled.
“Our attempts to seek assistance were in vain. After spending 10 hours in line at the customer service counter the previous day, we received no help. We then tried to retrieve our bags to cancel the trip, enduring a six-hour wait at the luggage claim area. To our dismay, we were informed that the airline would not release any luggage and advised to file a claim, hoping for eventual delivery,” Msowoya explained.
Experiences like Msowoya’s were not uncommon, as flight disruptions persisted for a fourth consecutive day, with over 9,000 flights across the United States being delayed or cancelled due to severe storms impacting the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast, where major air hubs are located.
FlightAware data revealed that more than 7,300 flights within, into, or out of the US were delayed on Tuesday, with over 2,100 cancelled flights. In contrast, this was a significant decrease compared to the chaos of the previous day when severe weather and air traffic control staffing issues led to over 11,000 flight disruptions.
Among US domestic airlines, United Airlines suffered the greatest impact, with 26% of its flights (774) being cancelled and an additional 41% (1,226) experiencing delays. Republic Airways, which operates feeder flights for American Airlines, Delta, and United, saw 39% of its schedule cancelled (379 flights).
On Tuesday night, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented temporary ground stops for flights heading to major New York metro area airports. LaGuardia Airport experienced average delays of over two hours for departures, while arrivals faced over four hours of delays.
The FAA attributed the disruptions to thunderstorms obstructing arrival and departure routes for LaGuardia Airport, JFK International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport. The agency cautioned passengers to expect delays in the New York metro area.
Severe storm threats extended to over 40 million people in the Northeast and Central Plains. Most of those at risk were located in the Northeast, including Philadelphia and Washington, DC, where the Storm Prediction Center issued a Level 1 of 5 threat. Parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, including Wichita and Tulsa, faced a Level 3 of 5 threat of severe weather.
Further flight delays and cancellations were anticipated as scattered thunderstorms were forecasted east of a cold front, affecting the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast. Damaging wind gusts and heavy rainfall could lead to isolated instances of flash flooding, particularly in southeastern New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.
While weather conditions played a role in the disruptions, inadequate staffing at air traffic control centres operated by the FAA and capacity limitations within US airlines contributed to the challenges faced during such disruptions. This made it difficult for the system to handle weather-related disruptions effectively and for passengers to secure alternative flights when their original ones were cancelled.
In an internal memo, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby voiced his frustration, blaming the FAA’s staffing issues at air traffic control centres for the “unprecedented challenges” experienced over the past weekend. Kirby pointed out the reduction in arrival and departure rates at Newark Liberty International Airport, which he believed reflected understaffing and lower experience levels at the FAA.
Kirby intends to meet with the FAA and Department of Transportation to address the problem and prevent similar incidents during the summer. While acknowledging that the current FAA leadership did not create the staffing issue, he stressed their responsibility to resolve it.
These disruptions occurred during a particularly busy period, as the Transportation Security Administration predicted record-breaking air travel for the July 4th holiday weekend. With an estimated 2.82 million passengers expected to be screened at airports nationwide on Friday, it would surpass pre-pandemic records, reflecting the growing rebound in air travel.
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Photo by Tim Gouw