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Flight delays plague summer travel season. Is there an end in sight?

Flight Aware reports 23 percent of U.S. flights have been delayed an average of 52 minutes since Memorial Day weekend.
Travelers at Mitchell Airport
Posted at 4:42 PM, Aug 17, 2022

MILWAUKEE — Even as the summer travel season starts to wind down, flight delays do not appear to be going anywhere.

People waiting for flights at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport say they got creative to try to avoid being delayed. Ida Kamanda from Chicago decided to fly her niece and nephew out of Milwaukee on Wednesday because of the backups she dealt with flying them into O’Hare Airport.

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Ida Kamanda (center) from Chicago decided to fly her niece and nephew out of Milwaukee on Wednesday.

“There was a big delay in O’Hare,” said Kamanda. “It was hours."

Traci Merrill from Ripon, Wisconsin is waiting for her son to fly home. She flew into Milwaukee on Monday night and ended up with multiple delays trying to make two different flights.

“Storms went through so things were delayed. Our first flight was delayed, got on the plane and got delayed a little bit more because of lightning on the ramp. Then flights from Charlotte to Milwaukee got a little delayed,” said Merrill. “It got a little crazy to make our connecting flight. It was a little anxiety-ridden.”

On Monday, in the New York area, the country’s busiest airspace, there was a shortage of air traffic control workers. It delayed 400 flights just in that area. Former pilot Mike Hatten says a delay in New York hurts everyone.

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“What they have to do if they can't handle as many airplanes, they have to put the airplanes farther apart in the air, which puts less airplanes in their airspace. In other words, normal spacing is five miles apart as an airplane transits the U.S. Sometimes they have to slow that down to 15 miles in trail, as they call it, or maybe even longer. So that means that your airplane may be delayed 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes getting into Milwaukee,” said Hatten.

Tower Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport
Mitchell International Airport increases flights, seats and staff in preparation for Republican National Convention.

Delays have plagued the summer travel. Flight Aware reports 23 percent of U.S. flights have been delayed an average of 52 minutes since Memorial Day weekend. On top of that, thousands of flights have been canceled over the summer. On Memorial Day weekend 2,600 domestic flights were canceled. On the 4th of July there were 1,400 cancellations.

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Former pilot and aviation expert Mike Hatten

By noon on Wednesday, Hatten says the number of delays was not too high.

“Eighty-two cancellations in the United States right now, 1,400 delays in the United States today and that's a relatively low number, right now,” said Hatten.

The FAA has blamed airlines for the delays and cancellations. Ahead of the fall and winter travel season, nearly every airline has cut down its flight schedule. Hatten says there are a variety of reasons for the problems including high travel demand and a nationwide shortage of pilots after early retirement was offered during COVID.

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Traci Merrill from Ripon, Wisconsin

“This is a long-term problem, I see this going in at least into 2024, 2025 before there's any significant relief. American, Delta and United and Southwest all face even higher retirements because of the mandatory age requirement, all the way out through 2026,” said Hatten.

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