Wed. Dec 7th, 2022

In yet another sign that airlines see bumpy skies on the horizon continuing beyond this summer, British Airways has announced that it plans to chop about 10,000 flights, or about 8%, of its winter schedule.

“We’re giving customers travelling with us this winter notice of some adjustments to our schedule, which will include consolidating some of our short-haul flights to destinations with multiple services,” the flag carrier airline for the United Kingdom said in a statement.

Last week, American Airlines trimmed roughly 31,000 flights, or about 16%, from its November schedule, according to Cirium data. That’s a massive number on top of the 19,000 flights the Texas-based carrier previously cut this summer.

This preemptive rightsizing for fall and winter is happening on the heels of a summer when air travelers have experienced an unprecedented level of flight disruptions, to the tune of 20,000 delayed flights and several thousand cancellations per day, according to FlightAware tracking data.

On a typical day, more than a third of the world’s delays can occur in the United States. On Monday, for example, 30 major U.S. airports saw at least 20% of their flights delayed.

Most of this summer’s flight disruptions can be to chalked up to “a perfect storm” of shortages, according to Mark Baier, CEO of AviationManuals, a leading provider of aviation development manual services and safety management system software.

“We’re essentially seeing a strain on a system that’s trying to quickly spool back up to pre-Covid travel levels,” he told Forbes last month.

The airlines themselves have blamed ongoing staffing shortages, coupled with soaring travel demand, for taxing the capabilities of the air travel system. The biggest problem has been the pilot shortage.

“We have a baby boomer generation that’s coming up to retirement, and that is quite a big generation. So the industry is losing a lot of pilots who were, quite frankly, given offers to resign early when flight levels were down.” Baier said.

Even with a recent push toward airline-run flight academies, carriers are finding they can’t produce commercial pilots overnight. “There’s no magic wand,” said Baier. “It’s certainly not less than a year before we start getting the impact of some new pilots coming in.”

In the mean time, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has made it clear he believes the airlines have to do better for their customers. Last week, he announced that the Department of Transportation (DOT) will launch a dashboard to help customers determine what they are owed if a flight is delayed or canceled. The new tool on the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection website is slated to launch by Friday, September 2, just as Labor Day weekend kicks off.

Airlines hope that trimming their schedules will improve performance without affecting travel plans for the majority of their customers. “The impact for our customers is minimal,” British Airways said. “We’ll operate on average around 290 round-trips per day from London Heathrow in winter.”

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