The prevailing conditions have contributed to what several passengers and industry professionals have characterized as an unpleasant summer travel season.
This year, air traffic has increased significantly, with passenger numbers exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Overcrowding has resulted, making flying increasingly unpleasant for millions of people.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported a single-day peak for US air travel on June 30, with more than 2.88 million passengers going through TSA checkpoints at airports around the country.
The US Department of Transportation said that US airlines transported 81.8 million scheduled domestic and international passengers in May, the most recent month for which data is available. Meanwhile, the load factor for scheduled flights for US airlines averaged 85.1% in May, slightly shy of 86.2% in the same month in 2019, before the epidemic.
Flight cancellations and delays have been a source of frustration for passengers this summer, and they may break last year's record. Earlier this summer, severe weather and wildfire smoke caused thousands of flight cancellations in the Northeast, while Hurricane Idalia's late August landfall in Florida disrupted flights across the Southeast.
So far in 2023, the proportion of on-time flights reported by the Department of Transportation has averaged just 76.5%, marginally higher than last year's record low of 76.25%, based on data dating back to 2014.
The airline sector is experiencing a manpower deficit, from pilots to air traffic controllers. According to consultancy Oliver Wyman, the pilot shortage will worsen over the next decade, worsened by an aging workforce and a diminishing pool of candidates—trends hastened by the pandemic.
The epidemic forced many elderly pilots to retire early, while a mandated retirement age of 65 for commercial pilots, imposed for health and public safety concerns, prevented some pilots from working longer.
Nowhere is the pilot crisis more evident than in North America, where about 8,000 pilots, or 11% of the overall pilot workforce, are now unavailable. The airline sector is expected to have 80,000 pilots short by 2032.
During the quarter, the firm flew an average of 2,400 daily trips, the most ever. American Airlines (AAL) CEO Robert Isom hailed his company's success in the most recent fiscal quarter, calling it a "fantastic quarter" with "historically strong levels." The airline had a remarkable load factor of 86%, which was somewhat higher than the previous industry average.
Passenger unhappiness and increasingly turbulent plane travel have prompted calls for government intervention. In July, the United States House of Representatives decisively enacted a bill to address problems in the aviation sector, which was backed by the Biden administration.
The measure dubbed the "Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act," required airlines to improve traveler safety, fairly recompense customers, and provide safeguards for disabled passengers.
It also urged the FAA to enhance the employment of air traffic controllers and granted monies to update aviation infrastructure and technology. To Alleviate the looming pilot shortage, the measure increased the retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67.