Airline worker shortage causing headaches for some passengers

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 11:21 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - After putting travel on hold last summer, many Northeast Ohio residents are trying to make up for lost time and lost trips.

And with air travel numbers being back up, airports like Cleveland Hopkins International are seeing more foot traffic now than any other time since the pandemic began.

Matt Henninger flew into Cleveland from Portland this week to visit family. It’s the first time he’s been on a plane in over a year.

“Glad to get back out,” said Henninger, who flew into Hopkins. “It’s kind of weird traveling with the face mask on, but other than that, it’s normal.”

Henninger said he didn’t deal with any flight delays or cancellations and that he’s experienced back on board a plane has been a good one thus far.

“It’s been smooth,” he told 19 News.

For others, though, like Rich Heldenfels, smooth is far from the word they’d used to describe recent air travel.

Earlier this month, he and his family took a trip down to Disney World. And though they had a blast in Orlando, Heldenfels said their flight home to Cleveland was anything but magical, and not just because it meant returning to reality.

“When we got onto our connection flight in Charlotte, we were told because of storms there that we were going to be a little delayed getting off the ground,” Heldenfels said.

It’s not fun, but weather delays happen and are often out of our control. But, what happened next, Heldenfels said, was something American Airlines could have planned for.

“We got maybe 100 yards from the gate and had to pull back because the first officer’s shift was ending, and they needed to get another pilot to replace him,” said Heldenfels.

About an hour later, he said the crew informed passengers that they couldn’t find a new pilot and had to cancel the flight.

It’s one of many flights American Airlines cancelled recently because the airline simply doesn’t have enough staff.

The airline said it canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend due to a worker shortage, along with maintenance and other issues.

American said it’s cutting its overall schedule by about 1% through mid-July.

“We could understand the problem with the storm, but the problem with the pilots and the staffing, that was part of their planning. That was part of them being understaffed. And that concerned us a great deal,” said Heldenfels, who said American ended up offering his family bonus miles for their troubles.

But, American isn’t alone when it comes to staffing struggles.

Delta and United Airlines are also on a hiring spree right now.

The worker shortage is even spanning beyond the airlines.

With long lines at the security checkpoint, many are worried the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) won’t be able to handle the increase in air travel.

Like several airlines, TSA also scrambling to find more staff. It’s even offering new hires a $1000 sign-up bonus.

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