A Southwest Airlines jet lands at a gate at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, USA on October 11, 2021.
Joe Skipper | Reuters
Airlines have canceled hundreds of weekend flights and delayed thousands more due to reduced traffic in one of the country’s top travel destinations during a thunderstorm spring break in Florida.
According to flight-tracking site FlightAware, more than 5,900 U.S. flights were delayed and 1,930 canceled on Saturday.
Thunderstorms are especially challenging for airlines because they are harder to predict and plan than other systems such as winter storms and hurricanes, at which time airlines often cancel flights unless they are a few days earlier.
Storms cause disruptions as crews and planes are out of position for their assignments. Airlines are currently shaking up staff to meet travel demand as the number of cove cases decreases this winter. Staff shortages disrupted flights last year.
According to FlightAware, Southwest Airlines has canceled 520 flights or 14% of its Saturday schedule, plus 1,512 delays or 43% of scheduled flights. About 10% of southwest Sunday flights were canceled and 7% delayed.
Before the storm caused delays in Florida, the airline made brief breaks early in the day to check on a backend system that had been reset as part of an overnight routine maintenance. These systems are used for work with pre-departure paperwork.
“Our top priorities are securing our crew network, ensuring crew have hotel rooms and minimizing the impact felt by our customers as we work to avoid disrupting their spring break travel plans,” Southwest said in a statement to flight attendants. “These situations have never been easier, and we thank you for your patience and perseverance as we make our way through this challenging weekend.”
A spokesman said the airline had waived the fare difference for affected customers so they could re-book online without having to wait over the phone.
Air traffic controllers completely slowed or interrupted domestic traffic at several Florida airports on Saturday, including Orlando International Airport, Miami International Airport and Tampa International Airport. About one-third of Orlando departures were canceled and 42% delayed.
“Yesterday’s weather was in and around Florida [air traffic control] American Airlines said in a statement that the initiatives have affected our operations through Florida and most of the northbound and southbound routes to Florida. “We are recovering from those obstacles today.”
Delta Air Lines reported that weather in Florida on Saturday also affected their operations. About one-fifth of each carrier’s Saturday schedule was delayed, or about 600 flights per flight.