Air travel is a mess again
After chaos last summer and winter, flights had been running relatively smoothlyuntil storms hit the Northeast this past week. This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here. After a chaotic summer of air travel in 2022, flights have been running relatively smoothly this year. But then storms in the Northeast this past week caused a series of flight cancellations. Heres what to expect as the country heads into a projected record-high travel weekendand how to keep your cool amidst air-travel unknowns. First, here are four new stories from The Atlantic : First Snag of the Season An airport concourse after midnight is not a happy place: The travelersbone-tired, their anticipation curdled into boredom and despairrest their weary heads on benches and jackets. The restaurants have turned off their lights; the newsstands have pulled down their grates; the bars have flipped up their stools for the night. Until this week, it appeared as if many Americans would be spared such indignities this travel season. Flight cancellations were down from last summer, and Memorial Day weekend went off with few travel hitches. After a summer of pain last year, when airlines and airports buckled under demand from travelers, and chaos last winter, when weather and tech problems snowballed into a yuletide imbroglio, things were going pretty smoothly. In June of last year, 2.7 percent of flights were canceled, whereas 1.9 percent of flights have been canceled this month so far (that number may change after cancellations today), Kathleen Bangs, a spokesperson for FlightAware, a company that tracks flights, told me. Although that difference might not sound like a lot, Bangs said, travelers feel the difference. She added that delays have gone up slightly, from 24 percent last June to 26 percent this June. Then, last weekend, storms hit the Northeast. Cancellations and delays spiked as weather issues collided with established staffing and operational issues. Last weekend was the first real snag of the season, Bangs said. Airlines canceled thousands of flights this weekmore than 8 percent of scheduled flights were canceled on Tuesday, according to FlightAwareahead of what is projected to be the busiest Fourth of July travel weekend on record. Did weather start it? Yes. Why it caused a cascade for them, we just dont know, Bangs added. Various parties are pointing fingers. United, which canceled more than 3,000 flights this past week, according to FlightAware, was quick to blame the Federal Aviation Administration for some of its woes. The FAA frankly failed us this weekend, Uniteds CEO reportedly wrote in a memo to staff. In an email, United told me that it is ready for the holiday weekend and is seeing far fewer delays today than in previous days this week. Theres shared responsibility between Mother Nature, the airlines own actions, and the FAA, Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst for Atmosphere Research Group, told me. The FAA is not the sole cause and shouldnt be made out to be the bogeyman. It doesnt help matters that we are at the end of a calendar month, when pilots and flight attendants may be running up against their maximum flying hours, he added. Indeed, the FAA is currently quite understaffedthough it has said that it did not have staffing issues along the East Coast on Monday or Tuesday of this week. The FAA told me that it hires controllers annually and is hiring 1,500 people this year, adding that it recently completed a review of the distribution of controllers. (Republic and Endeavor, a subsidiary of Delta, also saw high rates of cancellations, according to FlightAware. Republic did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Delta told me that as always, Delta and our connection partners work with our partners at the FAA to meet our shared top priority of safety, while running the most efficient operation possible for our customers.) The good news is that, after a few rough days, operations were recovering by yesterday. There were fewer flight cancellations that day compared with the ones leading up to it. Things may go okay for the airlines from herebarring a computer meltdown, Bangs saidas long as the weather cooperates. She added that even dense smoke could impact visibility and operations. That could remain an issue this summer as fires continue both in the U.S. and Canada. Travelers cannot control acts of Godif only!or airline-personnel issues. Indeed, what can be so frustrating about air travel is that so many factors are out of your control. But there are things travelers can do to try to avoid problemsor at least to increase the chances of having a decently comfortable time in the face of all the unknowns. Bangs told me that if she were flying this weekend, she would try to get on the first flight of the day. Statistically, theres such a better chance of that flight not getting canceled, she said. Harteveldt echoed that advice. If its doable for you, Bangs said, it could be worth looking into trying to change your booking to get on an earlier flightor switching to a direct flight in order to reduce the chance of one leg of a trip messing up connecting flights. Also, download your airlines app. Its an easy way to make sure you have up-to-date info and can communicate with the airline in case things go awry. Some of their other tips came down to preparation and attitude: It might be rough out there. Wake up early, pack light, and have your necessities consolidated in case you need to check a carry-on. Lines may be long at security. Give yourself time, and be flexible. Bangss final tip: Be nice to flight attendants. Bangs, a former pilot, said that many flight attendants are scarred from air rage and difficult passenger interactions over the past few years. Though an airplane can be the site of frustration, seat kickers, and nonpotable water, it is also a place of work for people who have been through a lot. Be cool, everyone. And good luck if youre traveling. Related: Todays News Dispatches Explore all of our newsletters here. Evening Read Surprise! You Work for Amazon Now. By Amanda Mull When you order something online, getting that thing from the warehouse into your hot little hands is hard. Internet commerce is designed to obscure that difficultypackages are supposed to alight on your welcome mat as though dropped there by the delivery fairybut challenges persist, and they are only getting worse. There are just too many doorsteps, and too many things that need to alight on them. At the peak of demand, a single holiday season in the United States involves billions of deliveries, all ferried by hand to purchasers within days of dispatch. In the shipping business, this end portion of a products journey from manufacturer to consumer is whats known as last mile. It is an enormous problem without any immediate solution. Read the full article. More From The Atlantic Culture Break Read. Beyond the Shores: A History of African Americans Abroad expands upon the history of the Black Americans who nurtured their creativity overseas. Watch. The second season of The Bear (streaming on Hulu) cements it as the rare prestige show that actually succeeds at radical reinvention . Or check out these 11 undersung TV shows to watch this summer. Play our daily crossword. P.S. If you plan to play pickleball this weekend, be careful: Analysts found that pickleball injuries may cost Americans nearly $400 million this year, and picklers appear to be driving up health-care costs. The sport has grown massively over the past few years and is projected to keep growing. Many people love the sport, and I myself have enjoyed a bit of pickle from time to time. But not everyone is a fan. The game has notably angered many tennis players , and The New York Times reported today that people have been filing lawsuits complaining about the games noises. The most grating and disruptive sound in the entire athletic ecosystem right now may be the staccato pop-pop-pop emanating from Americas rapidly multiplying pickleball courts, the reporter Andrew Keh writes . Lora Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.