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United Blames FAA for Summer Travel Problems

Frankfurt, Germany - July 17, 2014: United Airlines aircraft logo at an aircraft in Frankfurt. United Airlines is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.

Leaders at United Airlines say the Federal Aviation Administration holds some of the blame for this summer’s irregular operations – a claim the government denies.
Are mounting cancellations over the summer’s busiest travel days due to bad air traffic control problems and other infrastructure issues?


In a memo reported on by Reuters, executives at United Airlines say the government should hold part of the blame for issues flyers face at the airport on a daily basis.


“There Are Just More Flights…Than the [Air Traffic Control] Staffing System Can Handle”

As the COVID-19 emergency moves into an endemic state, the pent-up demand for travel is being felt across the country. The Transportation Security Administration reports screening millions of passengers daily, as flyers are ready to pack their bags and see the world once more.


The surge in passengers is also creating logistical nightmares for airlines. While staffing issues – including crew shortages and pilot issues – forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights this year alone, one C-Level executive at United believes that the FAA also holds blame for the issues at hand. In a memo to airline staff, United chief operations officer Jon Roitman claims the lack of available air traffic controllers is creating bottlenecks, leading to massive flight cancellations.


“The reality is that there are just more flights scheduled industrywide than the (air traffic control) staffing system can handle,” Roitman said in the internal memo, as quoted by Reuters. “Until that is resolved, we expect the U.S. aviation system will remain challenged this summer and beyond.”


This is not the first time the FAA and the U.S. air traffic control system has faced scrutiny from airlines. In October 2021, the FAA acknowledged the issues played a part in Southwest Airlines’ partial network collapse, saying staffing issues and a military exercise caused a partial service outage. In 2016, pilot unions backed a plan to privatize air traffic control in the U.S., but the legislation went nowhere.


In this situation, both the FAA and the U.S. Department of Transportation say they are not to blame for the massive number of cancellations. Responding to the United memo leak, an FAA spokesperson told Reuters the agency “will continue to meet our responsibility to hold airlines accountable, while standing ready to collaborate where appropriate so that Americans can confidently expect safe, reliable, and affordable service whenever they purchase an airline ticket.”


Airlines Expect More Support from Government Bodies

United’s latest jab at the government is the latest faceoff between airlines and governments over who should hold responsibility over commercial travel issues. At the 2022 IATA Annual General Meeting, the organization called on governments in the Americas to do more to support aviation growth across both continents.