DENVER -- The Fourth of July will again be celebrated in unprecedented fashion this year.
In 2020, our problem was COVID. In 2021, our problem is COVID-induced worker shortages. Airlines have been hit especially hard.
American Airlines expects up to 80 cancellations a day through mid-July.
It’s been frustrating for travelers at Denver International Airport as the weekend kicks off. On Saturday, DIA reported at least 43 cancellations and more than 350 delays.
“Everything we had planned for tonight and tomorrow - that’s gone,” said Rick Meagher.
Meagher and his wife, Angela, were flying from Sacramento to Cincinnati with a connection in Denver.
“We flew from Sacramento here to Denver and within 15 minutes of arrival, I got a text message that our flight to Cincinnati was canceled,” Meagher said. “So, we immediately went to try to rebook and the computer had us going out tomorrow to three different cities and eventually ending up in Cincinnati. I’ve had flights canceled, but this is a whole different situation. All we want to do is get to Lexington to see our daughter.”
Whitney Cline and her family just want their vacation to end.
“I had a flight canceled last night, and Southwest was like, ‘You can rebook.’ So, then they rebooked it for me. Then they canceled it again this morning when I was at the airport,” Cline said.
The departure boards show dozens of cancellations on a crystal clear day at Denver International Airport.
“It’s so frustrating,” Cline said.
Experts say the flight disruptions are due to several factors, but primarily because of surging demand this 4th of July weekend and lingering COVID-related labor shortages among the major airlines.
“I’m not saying we need to have sympathy for the major American airlines,” said AAA spokesman Skyler McKinley. “But at the same, the labor issues that are present here are a function of people needed to find other work to put food on the table. And they’ve not yet returned to the travel industry.”
McKinley and other experts say airlines act in relative good faith overbooking flights due to demand, but then have to cancel if pilots time out because of too many hours or if flight crews get stretched too thin.
“Sometimes shuttering a flight, so that personnel can be on another flight that we know is full or on a much busier route,” McKinley said.
And experts say it’s a trend that is likely to continue through the summer.
“You plan a beautiful family vacation and then suddenly you’re told - ‘Oh, we can’t take you today.’ You’re losing a day, and a lot of families don’t have that kind of flexibility,” McKinley said.
“I paid extra to get the flight today,” Meagher said. “If I was going to fly tomorrow, Saturday’s a much cheaper day to fly, but they’re not giving us any discount and we find ourselves flying tomorrow.”
The Meagher’s are stuck until Saturday with what they call a fairly insulting discounted hotel voucher.
“You get a nice little rate of $499 if we were to go to the Westin right here,” Meagher said.
“It’s going to be a fun night,” Cline said.
She and her family are hoping they found a better way to get there.
“A United flight that leaves at 8:57 tonight,” Cline said. “Fingers crossed that it stays that way, but it cost us an extra $1,000. And I still don’t have a refund for our Southwest flight.”
McKinley offers a few tips for avoiding a possible cancellation: He says try flying early in the morning when airlines have fewer labor issues because it's the start of a new day. Also - fly direct from hub to hub and avoid connections, even if it's more expensive. And, consider travel insurance which will refund your hotel and flights.