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Why is the airline industry struggling? And how long will it be this way?

Good Question: Why is the airline industry struggling?
Good Question: Why is the airline industry struggling? 02:50

MINNEAPOLIS -- If last weekend was any indication, prepare for a tumultuous summer travel season.

Thousands of flights were canceled beginning Thursday and thousands more were delayed.

Why is the airline industry struggling? How long will it be this way? Good Question. Our Jeff Wagner has some tips so you're prepared for potential problems.

Stress and air travel go hand in hand.

"I ended up having to stay last night in the [Washington] D.C. airport. It took me about three, four flights before I was finally able to get on one" said traveler Evan Eustachy at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"They totally just said 'Delayed.' And I'm like 'It's so early, how is it delayed?'" said traveler Adrena Taylor. "I had to wait five hours in my last layover."

Their stories are just two of the many who weathered an avalanche of problems this weekend.

At least 14,000 flights were delayed or cancelled starting Thursday. Delta Airlines gave this statement: "A variety of factors continue to impact our operations, including challenges with air traffic control, weather and unscheduled absences in some work groups. Canceling a flight is always our last resort, and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience to their travel plans."

David Dague, an aviation expert for Arthur D. Little with 30 years of experience in the industry, acknowledged weather was a factor in the problems this weekend.

"We have pent-up demand and we don't have a lot of supply," Dague said.

Demand is everyone eager to travel this summer. According to the TSA, more than 2.4 million people traveled through the skies on June 17, a number not seen since February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic started. Supply would be workers, specifically pilots.


What has led to the pilot shortage?

"The pilot shortage was looming in the background for quite a few years, even before COVID," Dague said.

When the pandemic started, airlines gave older pilots buyout packages. More continue to retire, outpacing new hires.

"They really say that the system requires about 10,000 new pilots a year, and we're at about half that," Dague said.

The FAA requires pilots to retire at 65 years old. Dague said there's now talks of raising the age to 67 to stem the shortage.

Training pilots also takes considerable time. Pilots need 1,500 hours of flight time before being allowed to fly commercial.

"You could go to a four-year school and get flight training while getting your college degree and you may get 300 hours," Dague said.

From gate agents to air traffic controllers, all corners of an airport are in need of workers, which have led to further delays and issues. People getting sick with COVID-19 continues to lead to temporary shortages.

How can travelers prepare? Dague said booking the earliest flight helps avoid delays, such as storms that come around the afternoon. It also buys you time if a delay or cancellation happens, preventing you from getting stuck at an airport overnight.

If you can, choose non-stop flights. Connecting flights create more opportunities for disruption. Lastly, arrive early. That way if a cancellation happens, you're one of the first passengers able to find a new flight.

Dague said the delays and cancellations will persist this summer. The pilot shortage however could last years.

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