This week, flights across the United States were canceled or delayed for reasons reported as weather-related due to summer storms, computer-systems related and air traffic control staffing-related. reported that more than 1,000 flights were canceled and another 2,000 delayed.

woman crossing arms, wearing black suit
Janine Iannarelli

Smart Meetings spoke with 35-year industry veteran Janine Iannarelli, founder and president of Par Avion Ltd., an international aircraft brokerage firm in Houston, for an “insider” take on what business travelers can expect this summer.

How are the recent weather/FAA staffing pipeline delays and cancellations going to affect business travelers both on the 4th of July and beyond into the summer.

I am not convinced that weather is entirely the culprit with regards to the delays and cancellations leading up to the 4th of July Holiday weekend. Weather can be a contributing factor, but dealing with a passing thunderstorm over a major hub that initiates a ground stop is quite different than a blizzard that rages on for hours or days.

There are a number of factors at work here, including a shortage of skilled aviation professionals (pilots, engineers, cabin attendants) and as has been more recently highlighted in the news, air traffic controllers that manage both en route and ground operations at the nation’s airports.

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While the airlines want to ramp up post-pandemic, there are limitations as to the ability to do so when there are not enough planes and manpower to do so. Consequently, with a shortage of the aforementioned, coupled with an unprecedented public desire to travel, planes are at capacity. It does not take much to cause a rift in the schedule when there is no surplus of airplanes or crew to turn to.

While I think there will be a reprieve to the current chaos stay tuned for Labor Day weekend! I don’t envision anything changing between now and then other than the passenger load may be a bit lighter as some regions of the country will see schools returning to session and thus vacation travel will start tapering off.

What work-arounds would you suggest to business travelers this summer to avoid or help stem the chaos?

My strategy for commercial airline travel is to try to schedule a flight as early as possible in the day, avoid Monday and Friday travel along with connecting flights.  Opt to drive the distance if the road time is under four hours by car as opposed to running the risk of connecting through a satellite airport.  Of course, if the company makes use of business aircraft, that is by far the soundest way to assure your flight will go as scheduled! And who knows, perhaps there will be a new focus on travel by train over longer distances.

Can we expect a lot more of this? 

Sadly, I believe so. The cuts were deep at the onset of the pandemic with crew furloughed or offered early retirement and aircraft taken out of service. There is not a great enticement for those released senior crew members to return to the workforce and while aviation transportation companies are trying to increase the pipeline of future pilots and mechanics, that is a long road to travel before the gap is filled. There is nothing that can replace experience and that requires time on the job.

Is the FAA planning to add more air traffic controllers soon?

I have no idea if the FAA will add more ATC staff any time soon, but the first question I have is where are they going to find them? The same issues exist here as it does with flight crew….there is a shortage and feeding the pipeline has become challenging. The military has typically been a great resource for funneling both pilots and air traffic controllers into the system, but that supply has lessened over the years.