FAA, airlines to meet on Florida flight disruptions as travel booms

Travelers look at a display board showing cancelled and delayed flights at Orlando International Airport on New Year’s weekend, despite thousands of flight cancellations and delays across United States.

Paul Hennessy | Lightrocket | Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration will meet with major U.S. airline staff next month to discuss ways to improve the flow of air traffic to and from tourism hotspot Florida, where weather delays earlier this month disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers.

The two-day meeting will be held in person in Florida, the FAA told CNBC. Spirit Airlines will attend, according to a person familiar with the matter. Other carriers with big operations in Florida such as American Airlines and JetBlue Airways are also likely to attend.

Airlines have been flying more to some of the Sunshine State’s busiest airports. Florida logged a record of nearly 118 million domestic visitors last year, according to state data.

Miami service is up 113%, Tampa, 107%, and West Palm Beach up 132% over 2019, before the Covid pandemic, according the FAA.

More frequent thunderstorms in the state, coupled with high travel demand and thinner airline staffing levels than needed, contributed to the delay or cancellation of more than 9,000 flights earlier this month.

“The limiting factor on the East Coast has been weather during a time of peak demand,” the FAA said in a statement.

Nearly 1,200 flights at Orlando International Airport, or 5%, so far this month have been canceled up from 2% in 2019, while 36% were delayed, double the percentage during the same period of 2019, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware. At Fort Lauderdale International Airport, cancellations are up to 5% of the April schedule from 1% three years ago while delays nearly doubled to 33%.

Air travel in Florida is also facing challenges such as increased military operations and more space launches, all while the pandemic slowed air traffic controller training.

Some airlines are paring their schedules, aiming to improve reliability as they build in more slack in their operations. New York-based JetBlue, Fort Lauderdale-based Spirit and Seattle-based Alaska Airlines have recently cut their schedules for the peak summer season.

“Nobody could have anticipated that Florida in April would have … 115 hours of [air traffic control] delays for that month, compared to 22 in 2019,” JetBlue Airways President Joanna Geraghty said on a quarterly earnings call Tuesday. “So, these are challenging times, and I think we’re doing the responsible thing by taking capacity down and rightsizing it to reflect the resources we have and the external environment.”

Representatives for the airlines didn’t immediately comment on the scheduled meeting.


Jinggo B Danuarta

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