More than one-third of all flights at LaGuardia Airport and over a quarter of flights at Newark Airport were cancelled Thursday in one of the worst travel days yet this summer.
The huge percentage of flight cancellations, cited by tracking service FlightAware, were due in part to the chance of storms late in the day.
However, the travel chaos was not limited to New York City-area airports, with more than 1,500 flights cancelled on Thursday across the country as the peak summer travel season gets underway.
Staffing shortages, especially a lack of pilots, are to blame for the nationwide travel headaches, according to industry insiders.
Thursday’s cancellations came after 2,800 flights were scrubbed in the US during a five-day stretch around Memorial Day weekend.
Unions representing pilots at Delta, American and Southwest Airlines said the companies have been too slow to replace pilots who retired or took leaves of absence during the pandemic.
Airlines have also placed the blame on poor weather conditions and the Federal Aviation Administration, which manages the country’s airspace and air-traffic control centers, which are also struggling with staffing issues.
Thursday’s cancellations happened as airline CEOs met with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a virtual meeting to discuss concerns over airport bottle-necks and frustrated travelers this summer.
“I let them know that this is a moment when we are really counting on them to deliver reliably for the traveling public,” Buttigieg told NBC News.
Buttigieg made a number of requests during the meeting. He asked the CEOs to ensure July 4 holiday travel runs smoothly and pushed the airlines to evaluate if they can deliver on the flight schedules they have published. He also requested they improve customer service.
Nicholas Calio, head of the trade group Airlines for America, said the industry leaders were grateful for the chance to discuss their concerns and “shared commitment to prioritizing the safety and security of all travelers” with the transportation secretary in a statement.
The number of air travelers — which is more than 2.2 million a day in the US — is still about 300,000 fewer per day than pre-pandemic levels in June 2019. However, the number is expected to grow over the next several weeks and almost certainly break the pandemic-era record set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.