Airlines canceled or delayed thousands of U.S. flights over the weekend as severe weather in Florida snarled operations.
The thunderstorms prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to limit flying over a large swath of Florida Saturday and to pause flights at several airports in the state.
Cancellations and delays piled up Saturday, with over 1,900 U.S. flights scrubbed, including about 30% of departures from Orlando and about a quarter of Tampa’s departing flights, according to FlightAware, which tracks plane traffic. The disruption continued to reverberate throughout airline networks Sunday with over 1,500 flights to, from or within the U.S. canceled Sunday afternoon, FlightAware said.
Southwest Airlines Co., the nation’s largest domestic carrier, was particularly hard hit. It canceled 600 flights on Saturday, roughly 14% of its planned routes, and delayed over 1,500 flights, or 44%, according to FlightAware.
Southwest said some of its earliest flights Saturday were delayed and a handful were canceled due to "intermittent technology issues" that occurred during planned overnight maintenance. The airline didn’t say what the specific issue was, but said it was resolved early Saturday.
On Sunday, Southwest canceled 400 flights, about 10% of its planned departures, and delayed 894, roughly 23% of its traffic, FlightAware said. Southwest said in an email that it started Sunday with canceled flights due to the weather from the day before but was back on schedule by 12 p.m. CDT.
This weekend’s problems come as spring break travel is in full swing: the Transportation Security Administration screened close to 2.3 million travelers at U.S. airports Friday. While the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 slowed travel appetite at the start of the year, airport passenger volumes have in recent weeks climbed back toward levels last reached over Thanksgiving 2021.
Airlines everywhere had to cancel or delay flights as storms swept across much of Florida on Saturday, causing residual problems into Sunday.
JetBlue Airways Corp. was among the most heavily affected Sunday, canceling over 30% of its Sunday schedule, according to FlightAware.
A JetBlue spokesman said severe weather in the southeast and multiple air-traffic control delays programs had significantly impacted the industry.
"We have unfortunately had to cancel flights this weekend, and today’s cancellations will help us reset our operation and safely move our crews and aircraft back into position," he said.
Spirit Airlines Inc. grounded 222 flights on Saturday and delayed 280. It canceled roughly 33% of its Sunday schedule, FlightAware said.
American Airlines Group Inc. had to cancel 364 on Saturday and delay 632. On Sunday, 256 were canceled and 354 delayed, according to FlightAware.
Delta Air Lines Inc. grounded 238 flights on Saturday and delayed 587. It canceled 41 flights on Sunday and delayed 420, FlightAware said.
Bad weather and technical difficulties weren’t the only problems hitting airlines. Alaska Air Group Inc. canceled nearly 300 flights this weekend, amid a staffing shortage and ongoing contract negotiations with its pilots.
The carrier canceled 120 flights on Friday, the same day the Air Line Pilots Association organized picket lines outside Alaska Airline terminals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Anchorage, Alaska, and at its headquarters in Seattle.
The airline said it canceled another 92 flights on Saturday and 69 early Sunday. Alaska Airlines said about 35,000 passengers were affected by the 281 cancellations.
The Air Line Pilots Association denied any connection between its informational picket lines and the airline’s cancellations and said that pilot attrition is to blame. No pickets were held on Saturday or Sunday, the union said.
The carrier has been bargaining with the Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing Alaska Airlines pilots, since 2019 over employee demands for more flexible schedules and increased job security and wages.
"Alongside other carriers, we continue to be impacted by a national pilot shortage and the required training regimen to bring new pilots onboard," the airline said Saturday.