American Airlines cancels hundreds of flights as US air carriers scramble to handle resurgence in travel demand

American Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend and projected more disruptions this week, marking the latest setback for an industry that is struggling to adjust as travel demand recovers from Covid-19 shutdowns.

American canceled 180 flights on Sunday, or about 6% of its service, and 543 flights were delayed, according to data. That followed 123 flight cancellations and 591 delays on Saturday. The carrier has already canceled 97 Monday flights and 54 for Tuesday – numbers that are likely to grow as it becomes clear that the flights won't be feasible.

A high number of employees calling in sick was part of the problem this weekend, but American and other airlines are operating with a smaller margin for error because they haven't fully recovered from the pandemic. Thousands of employees were jettisoned through early retirements and buyouts after Covid-19 led to a shutdown in air travel in March 2020, and with travel demand now bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels, the airlines haven't been able to refill those positions quickly enough.

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The air carriers aren't alone in adjusting to the return of heavy passenger traffic. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) warned earlier this month that it expects to have staffing shortages at 131 airports and asked its office workers to volunteer for temporary front-line duty.

Travelers know of the staffing problems all too well, with many standing in security lines for an hour or more and some missing connecting flights. Over Memorial Day weekend, callers seeking to talk to a live customer service agent at Delta Air Lines were told they would have to wait more than 21 hours.

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Delta canceled just five flights on Sunday, but 397 were delayed. United Airlines had six cancellations and 272 delays. Southwest Airlines had to cancel 37 flights, and 883, or 25% of its traffic, was delayed.

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