DALLAS – As thunderstorms in Florida hindered traffic during spring break, airlines canceled hundreds of weekend flights, with thousands more delayed.
According to the flight-tracking website FlightAware, more than 5,900 flights in the US were delayed or canceled on Saturday.
Inbound travel at many Florida airports, including Orlando International Airport (MCO), Miami International Airport (MIA), and Tampa International Airport (TPA), was slowed or halted entirely on Saturday. Nearly a third of Orlando departures were canceled, with another 42% delayed.
In the middle of March, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had already projected that there would be an increased traffic volume throughout all of March, surpassing 90% of pre-pandemic levels.
Thundering Spring Break Disruptions
Thunderstorms are particularly difficult for airlines to foresee and plan for, compared to other weather systems such as winter storms and hurricanes, which prompt airlines to cancel flights hours, if not days, in advance.
Storm-related disruptions tend to snowball since crews and planes are left out of position for their assignments. Airlines have been scrambling to staff up in order to meet the increased travel demand as COVID cases began to fall this winter. Last year, staffing shortages exacerbated flight delays.
According to FlightAware, Southwest Airlines (WN) canceled 520 flights, or 14% of its Saturday schedule, and delayed 1,512 flights, or 43% of scheduled flights. Approximately 10% of Southwest’s Sunday flights were canceled, while another 7% were delayed.
The airline had temporarily halted departures early in the day before the storms caused delays in the southeastern tip of the US to do checks on a backend system that it had reset as part of routine maintenance overnight. These systems are used for a variety of functions, including documentation for pre-departure.
Comments from Airlines
According to cnbc.com, WN said in a message to flight attendants, “Our top priorities are protecting our crew network, ensuring crews have hotel rooms and minimizing the effects felt by our customers as we work to avoid disruptions to their spring break travel plans.”
According to a spokeswoman for the airline, pricing differences have been waived for impacted clients so they can rebook themselves online without having to wait on the phone.
American Airlines (AA) said in a statement, “Yesterday’s weather in around Florida and resulting [air traffic control] initiatives impacted our operations with most northbound and southbound routes through and to Florida affected…We’re recovering from those disruptions today.”
On its part, Delta Air Lines (DL) said that the Florida weather also impacted its operation on Saturday. About a fifth of each carrier’s Saturday schedules was delayed, or roughly 600 flights apiece.
This is a developing story.
Featured image: Southwest Airlines. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways