Flying This Summer Could Be a Hot Mess

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Airport delays and flight groundings on course to disrupt the summer travel season—and your events.

As the summer travel season begins to heat up, so is the threat of seasonal airport headaches. Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading US airlines, recently announced that it expects a record 257.4 million passengers—an average of 2.8 million per day—to travel on US airlines between June 1 and Aug. 31. That number is up 3.4 percent from last summer’s record 248.8 million passengers. This will be the 10th consecutive summer to see an increase in the number of US airline passengers.

While airlines are adding 111,000 seats per day to accommodate the additional 93,000 daily passengers expected during the summer travel period, two factors loom large in wreaking havoc for passengers.

First is the continued fallout from the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max planes following two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people. Regulators are still investigating the safety of the 737 Max. Although Boeing has been working on a fix to allay safety concerns, the fleet is likely to remain out of service for another 10 to 12 weeks.

In the US, three of the four largest carriers are dealing with the loss of a total of six-dozen Boeing 737 Max aircraft. American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have removed the Max from their schedules through August, leaving thousands of passenger flights to be covered.

Some ways airlines are compensating, according to an A4A report, include reducing frequency on longer routes and cutting some lighter routes.

Along with potential cancelations and delays, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is facing staffing challenges. According to A4A, to date, 486 US Customs and Border Patrol officers (CBPOs) have been reassigned from airports, seaports and northern land ports to supplement Border Patrol staffing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bloomberg reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is due to transfer dozens of air marshals and as many as 400 airport screeners from TSA to assist with ongoing border operations. The administration also plans to divert more than $230 million from the TSA to border functions.

The Bloomberg report stated that the DHS said in an emailed statement that it will seek minimize the impact of the administration’s volunteer effort by limiting participants from airports that are already stretched thin.

A4A is also attempting to alleviate security line stress by boosting participation in Global Entry and TSA Pre Check. This summer, TSA will pilot an in-journey “TSA tablet” enrollment opportunity for travelers at select airports. Travelers will be able to enroll in Pre Check while in transit to their airline gate.

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