Americans gained a new federal holiday last year: Juneteenth. This year the holiday, which commemorates of the end of slavery in the United States, falls on Sunday but it will be observed in many places on Monday, June 20.
Given that this long summer weekend also coincides with Father’s Day, that means there will be a lot of travel going on.
The Friday before Juneteenth clocked in as the most popular air travel day of 2022, according to statistics from the Transportation Security Administration. Airports haven’t been that crowded since Thanksgiving 2021.
TSA officers said they screened about 2,438,784 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide on Friday, the highest checkpoint volume since November 28, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That also was about 100,000 more travelers than the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.
“Welcome to the Juneteenth Holiday Weekend of travel!” wrote TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein on Twitter.
While Juneteenth became an official holiday last year, this is the first year that the US stock market and banks will close in its honor.
The surge in numbers couldn’t have come at a worse time for US airlines. A combination of rough weather, staff shortages and infrastructure challenges have left major carriers struggling to keep up with the surge in travel. Nearly 9,000 flights were delayed within the US Friday and another 1,500 flights were canceled according to the data group FlightAware.
In all, more than 3,200 flights were canceled between Friday and Sunday, per FlightAware, including more than 850 flights on Saturday and more than 900 Sunday.
Delta Air Lines alone canceled at least 248 flights on Sunday. United Airlines canceled 90 flights, and American Airlines canceled 96 flights.
“A variety of factors continue to impact our operations, including challenges with air traffic control, weather and unscheduled absences in some work groups,” Delta said in a statement to CNN. “Canceling a flight is always our last resort, and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience to their travel plans.”
CNN has reached out to United and American for a comment on the flight cancellations.
The increase in delays and cancellations comes just one day after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg met with airline CEOs to discuss ways to improve performance and operations ahead of another expected surge in travel over the 4th of July holiday.
About 2,700 flights were canceled over Memorial Day weekend. Major airlines already are preemptively canceling more flights just as the busy summer season heats up. Southwest Airlines has cut nearly 20,000 flights between June and Labor Day and is struggling to hire the 10,000 new workers it says it needs to meet demand.
“I go through the Whataburger drive-thru and I pay and get my bag, and stapled to the bag is a job application,” Southwest CEO Robert Jordan joked to the Dallas Morning News last year about the difficulty in finding job applicants. “That’s what it’s come to.”
Delta said it will cancel 100 daily flights in the US and Latin America from July 1 to August 7. In an open letter to customers, Delta pilots wrote that the labor shortage has put them on pace to fly more overtime hours this year than in all of 2018 and 2019 combined.
“The pilot shortage for the industry is real, and most airlines are simply not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five-plus years,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said during the airline’s quarterly earnings call in April.
Unions representing pilots at Delta, American and Southwest say that airlines got themselves into the current situation by refusing to replace pilots who retired and took leaves of absence during the height of the pandemic when air travel plummeted.
About 8,000 new commercial pilots have received certificates in the last year, according to pilot unions, and they say there shouldn’t be a shortage. The current service cut narrative, they claim, is being used by companies to justify a cut to training and safety requirements that will boost profit margins.
Some US senators are taking note. “While some flight cancellations are unavoidable, the sheer number of delays and cancellations this past weekend raises questions about airline decision-making,” wrote Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey in a letter to Buttigieg earlier this month.