Transportation Secretary Calls Out Airlines For Record Flight Cancelations


U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took to the airwaves to express his concerns with trouble on the nation’s airways, specifically calling out airlines’ performance in the face of record delays. Friday (Aug. 5) saw the most canceled flights (1,613) in five weeks. Though he acknowledged that weather was a factor in the disruption, Buttigieg told CNN the situation was “an indication that we still have not seen the improvements that we need, that the system is very brittle.”

The Secretary laid much of the blame for delays and cancelations on “the human factor,” along with airlines scheduling operations beyond what they can reliably fulfill. He called out, “Not having enough crew, especially pilots, to do the job. And airlines, of course, have an obligation to service the tickets that they sell.” He told morning television host Joe Scarborough that, though there has been an improvement in so-called “blue-sky” (non-weather-related) delays, “We need to have a more fluid system,” for when bad weather causes air travel to “grind to a halt.”

Buttigieg told Scarborough that, with pent-up demand adding on to normal business airline travel, “Airlines have to be ready to meet that demand.” Referencing government bailout funds paid to the airlines, Scarborough asked if there was a deadline for reestablishing peak airline performance—and what consequences the DOT had at its disposal to enforce performance. Buttigieg explained that the measure of record is the daily cancelation rate, and the goal is to get that performance back on par with pre-pandemic levels. He also cited the turnaround time on refunding fares, saying, “If [airlines] don’t meet that, we will enforce on that.”

Buttigieg cited a new rule representing the largest expansion of passenger rights in decades, and urged passengers and other stakeholders to register comments at

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Pete is FOS! While airlines aren’t blameless, ATC is causing severe delays with traffic when the weather doesn’t justify the disruptions they are creating.

    I know this because I am an airline pilot and have seen multiple delays and cancellations in the past several months for weather that 2 years ago would have been a minor inconvenience. As an example I was departing LaGuardia recently when we were sent to a holding area and told the departure route was closed. Weather was clear blue and unlimited visibility but we were told the delay was for weather. In looking at the radar there was one storm about 25 miles in diameter 120 miles west of NYC. We sat in the holding area for well over an hour before departures resumed and then only with 6 minutes of separation. We were within 5 minutes of being required to return to the gate due to DOT rules. The 2 biggest issues seem to reside at New York and Jacksonville centers. Also NY departure/approach seems much less efficient than it has been in the past.

    This is just one example, I have many others. So Pete is flat out lying which is hardly a surprise since taking responsibility for your own screw ups is frowned upon in this administration it would seem.

    • I agree 100%. I have worked around some of these “weather delays” only to find there was no weather that could not be easily dealt with airborne. And what about the efficiencies promised when the FAA mandated ADS-B installations? ADS-B was sold as being able to handle more traffic than the current method at the installation deadline. Maybe the DOT secretary should concentrate his efforts there.

      • The issues seem to be localized, but the results of the issues in one part of the system (NYC) reverberate throughout the system with delays and cancelations later in the day due to aircraft positioning or crews timing out. It isn’t the airlines fault when a flight in an out station has to be canceled because of a ridiculous ATC delay hours earlier and a thousand miles away.

    • Bob, this problem in the Northeast has been going on for years, the FAA and the administration (s) have just refused to address it. I used the fly the LGA-DCA-BOS shuttle in 2005-2007. It was common even back then to have to taxi to a hold point and wait an hour or more even when there was no weather anywhere in the Northeast. It was just traffic saturated. Sounds like it hasn’t gotten any better. Unfortunately mayor Pete is just like all the other current admin types in DC. They think that if the government makes a pronouncement, the problem will be solved. There is no real research into why something is happening and the best way to fix the problems found. Nothing will change until this useless administration, including mayor Pete is removed from DC. Even then I don’t have high hopes. Good luck with your flying and dealing with these issues. Wish I had a suggestion for you.

      • I can’t really comment on how it was back in the early 2000s, but what I can tell you is the problem is MUCH worst today than pre-Covid. There will always be delays in the NE but these issues are much more prevalent this year than the recent past.

    • Your political bias blinds you to the crux of the problem. The Sec’y isn’t ”lying”. In order to lie you have to be aware of the facts behind the situation…and ATC declares “weather delays” often ..NOT for LOCAL reasons such as you thought Bob… but often for backed-up traffic far down the line.
      I hate to think that some day I might be riding behind an airline pilot that may be making decisions while as confused and blind to the facts as you seem to be.

      • Jeeez George. I think you are the one who needs to give politics a rest. Just because your captain has a different view from you on politics you would not want to get on the plane with him? You don’t think he can be professional in the left seat because the believes the sec’y of transportation is incompetent. If you’re so upset that you will make an issue of Bob’s politics, my politics or anyone else’s for that matter, maybe you should drive next time. Take a chill pill.

  2. The FAA had a recent ATC hiring window opened for about 3 days. With fifty something thousand applicants, they selected only 1500. Now statistically, only about half of those hired will complete screening and later certification. Of the remaining 750, they will take an average of two to three years to become fully trained and completely certified at a facility busy enough to be needing help. During that two to three years, the ATC system which is already understaffed, probably about as many new folks that enter the system an equal number will be retiring. So, we are at zero staffing improvement. The FAA knows this. This game has always been played this way and the system always remains understaffed. Help is on the way? Not hardly.

  3. All the guys were just taking some paternity time… you know it is tough on guys that have kids…
    Wait… didn’t this guy do the same with his husband… no wonder the sky’s are screwed up in America.

  4. Okay folks, lots of whining here and unnecessary infighting.
    I am thankfully retired from the “fray” so I am not putting up with the constant delay issues for whatever reason. That won’t, of course, stop me from weighing in on the current problem: delays / cancellations.
    1. Delays in the NE Corridor are a long standing problem, even back when there were sufficient controllers and pilots on hand.
    A. Yes, there were weather delays in the past but mostly when the problem was fairly wide spread in the NE. Sure, there were ground holds for KORD S++ or TRW++ ALL QUADS, but that was made clear at the time the hold was issued. As time moved into the early 2000’s, “weather” became a more readily used excuse to slow traffic flow down. As Bob mentioned, one TRW 125 west of NYC would have been noted but it wouldn’t have slowed traffic much unless you were headed for KHAR or KPIT.
    2. There is a definite shortage of controllers today but like so many other issues, the FAA doesn’t seem to care much. Maybe, Mayor Pete should look in his own mirror and start lighting some fires inside the FAA to solve a myriad of issues including manpower shortages,
    3. Yes, the airlines are short of pilots and will be slow to fix the issue with the greatly reduced supply of military pilots. There are several programs in place now, and likely more to come, to train ab initio in the civil world but that will also be slow to achieve the numbers of warm bodies needed and it is very expensive for the individual trainee and that likely discourages many applicants.
    A. the sole draw back I see to the civil program is the off chance that some “less than sterling” folks will get through that system as it is geared toward producing numbers, not quality. The military will, routinely, let the poor performers loose but there is no incentive to doing so in the for profit world. Not throwing stones, merely stating what I know to be fact. I had a few of them in the right seat in the “Whale” and it wasn’t fun relying on myself and the FE to catch all the issues.
    4. While I am “for” putting 500-700 hour pilots in the right seats of the regional jets, I also worry about the quality of and the teaching ability of the Captains they will fly with daily. In the military, we had the luxury of controlling who flew with whom thus doing our best to get ahead of the issue where two weaklings were crewed together.
    5. The airlines are equally at fault for a lot of the issues with delays/cancellations. They do not seem to be staffed for the schedules they want to operate and still have adequate reserves to cover the issues that weather, etc., can create. Their schedules are too ambitious for their staffing.
    6. Pilots do not escape their part in my set of issues with the industry today. The limits under Part 121 are very reasonable: 32 in 7, 100 in a calendar month, 1000 in a calendar year. Most companies try to avoid flying anyone more than 85 per month to avoid tripping the 1000/year limit and having huge holes in their staff at Christmas. That said, most contracts I know of limit pilots to about 15 to 19 days per month “on the hook”. They still let or even encourage pilots to fly more days by offering pay rigs to do so. Then, after they take that extra time, and even in cases where they don’t, plenty of whiners are loudly yelling about being over worked and fatigued. Don’t accept overtime if you are tired…PERIOD. You cannot be fired for that. Some of the graybeards reading this will roll in the aisles reading this when they see that these kids can’t cut what we used to take for the norm. If you doubt me, look up 121.483 and read what our limits were because we had an FE in the cockpit.

    Okay, off my soap box. Suffice it to say that there is a sufficient amount of blame available for every party in this mix. It is long past time to quit pointing fingers and start working together to arrive at a solution that will meet the travel needs of the public while keeping safety in the forefront.

  5. I’ve seen that type of incompetence also. And I’ve noticed when ATC issues a re-route for weather, it almost always sends me directly into the area with the worst weather. They’re idiots. I once took off out of San Antonio, and they gave me routing into the worst solid line of thunderstorms I’d seen in a long time. i refused, and they dug in their heels and wouldn’t budge. So when I said if that’s the best they can do I’ll go back to San Antonio. Then some new voice comes on the radio and I was able go where ever I wanted to. Which was clear skies and it was smooth sailing all the way to the north east. So one has to wonder about the level of competence in some of the ATC centers.