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United Airlines Flight Delays and Cancellations to Continue This Summer

United is blaming the Federal Aviation Administration for continued flight disruptions this summer.

On Thursday, United chief operating officer Jon Roitman sent a letter to employees saying air traffic control (ATC) staffing was, in part, the reason for thousands of flight delays and cancellations since March.

“We estimate that over 50% of our delay minutes and 75% of our cancels in the past four months were because of FAA traffic management initiatives — those have been particularly acute in Newark and Florida,” he said. “These ATC challenges can not only disrupt the schedule, but they also cause us to burn crew time throughout the month.”

According to Roitman, the ATC staffing system, particularly in New York and Florida, cannot handle the high number of flights scheduled this summer.

“Until that is resolved, we expect the U.S. aviation system will remain challenged this summer and beyond,” he said. “We’re eager to do our part and will continue to stay in touch with the federal government on possible solutions that will positively impact customers.”

The airline received a waiver from the FAA in June to reduce its daily departures at its Newark hub by 12% to better manage the volume.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian made similar comments about ATC staffing at an employee town hall on June 29, saying the FAA is the “most stressed” aviation organization, travel news outlet Skift reported

The FAA responded to United’s allegations on Thursday, telling Insider in a statement that ATC staffing was not at fault for the majority of flight disruptions this summer.

“It is unfortunate to see United Airlines conflate weather-related Air Traffic Control measures with ATC staffing issues, which could deceptively imply that a majority of those situations are the result of FAA staffing,” the FAA said. 

The agency explained that other factors, including weather, high flight volumes, and ATC capacity, also lead to disruptions — not just staffing.

“On July 3rd and 4th there were no FAA staffing-related delays at all, yet airlines still canceled over 1100 flights, a quarter of which were United Airlines flights,” the agency told Insider. “We 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.”

The FAA has maintained it does not have a staffing issue, telling Insider in June that there is “not a system-wide air traffic controller shortage,” despite airlines claiming otherwise.

On June 24, airline lobbying group Airlines for America (A4A) sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg saying ATC-related issues are to blame for one-third of recent US flight cancelations. The letter claimed staffing, in particular, has “led to traffic restrictions under blue sky conditions.” 

The stat comes after airlines canceled thousands of flights this summer, especially over key holiday weekends, like the Fourth of July, Juneteenth, and Memorial Day.

A4A pointed directly to the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, which it says was understaffed for 27 of the 30 days between May 25 and June 24. After a meeting with airlines discussing solutions for the facility, the FAA told Insider that it has increased staffing at Jacksonville, but did not specify a number.

Despite A4A’s claim, Buttigieg told the Associated Press on June 18 that the government may punish carriers for continued flight disruptions, especially after his own flight was canceled and he was forced to drive from Washington to New York instead.

The secretary said on June 28 that ATC staffing was not driving flight disruptions, per Skift.

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