Congressional Report Finds Most Flight Cancellations are the Airlines’ Fault

·2 min read
Photo:  Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress (Getty Images)
Photo: Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress (Getty Images)

Frequent flyers on commercial flights might have felt like the passenger experience has gotten worse since 2020. Delays and cancellations are becoming more common at the slightest hint of trouble. The most notable incident was when a winter storm in late December 2022 provoked Southwest Airlines’ mass cancellations of flights. The meltdown was attributed mainly to understaffing and organizational mismanagement. A recent Congressional report has found that most flight cancellations are caused by factors controlled by airlines.

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The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congress auditing agency, published a report on flight delays and cancellations last Friday. The GAO examined flight data from January 2018 through April 2022 to better understand the current state of passenger aviation. The agency noted that cancellation rates were worse in the last six months of 2021 than in 2018 and 2019 despite there being 14 percent fewer flights in 2021.

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The GAO report states that a lack of flight crews and maintenance issues are the leading cause of cancellations. The country’s carriers are undergoing significant hiring drives and opening new training facilities, but the airlines created staffing shortages in the first place.

The GAO notes that U.S. airlines took $54 billion from Congress through the Payroll Support Program. The cavity of taking taxpayer money was that the carriers couldn’t involuntarily furlough or terminate employees. The airlines downsized their staff regardless through early retirements or other incentives.

A spokesperson for Airlines for America, a carrier trade group, told NPR that “severe weather and air traffic control outages” caused most of the cancellations this year. While the federal government’s management of the air traffic control network is partly responsible for the dysfunction in the skies, the airlines can’t shy away from decisions made to put themselves in their present situation.

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