A Southwest Airlines plane at the gate at the Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, USA on October 11, 2021.
Joe Skipper | Reuters
Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend and thousands more were delayed as thunderstorms in Florida slowed traffic in one of the country’s top tourist destinations during spring break.
More than 5,900 US flights were delayed and 1,930 canceled on Saturday, according to the website FlightAware.
Thunderstorms are especially challenging for airlines because they are harder to predict and plan for than other natural disasters such as winter storms and hurricanes, during which airlines often cancel flights hours or even days in advance.
Storm disruptions tend to cascade because crews and aircraft are left out of position to perform their missions. Airlines are currently scrambling to recruit staff to cope with travel demand that has risen due to a decline in Covid cases this winter. Staff shortages exacerbated flight disruptions last year.
Southwest Airlines canceled 520 flights, or 14% of the Saturday schedule, plus 1,512 delays, or 43% of scheduled flights, according to FlightAware. About 10% of Southwest’s Sunday flights were canceled and 7% delayed.
Before the storms caused delays in Florida, the airline briefly suspended flights earlier in the day to test the internal system, which it rebooted as part of regular overnight maintenance. These systems are used for tasks including paperwork before departure.
“Our top priorities are protecting our crew network, providing crew accommodations and minimizing the impact our customers are experiencing as we work to avoid disruptions to their spring break travel plans,” Southwest said in a message to flight attendants. “These situations are never easy and we thank you for your patience and perseverance as we work through this difficult weekend.”
The airline has canceled fare differences for affected customers so they can rebook online without waiting for a phone call, an airline spokesman said.
On Saturday, air traffic controllers slowed or suspended incoming traffic at several Florida airports, including Orlando International Airport, Miami International Airport and Tampa International Airport. About a third of flights out of Orlando were canceled and 42% delayed.
“Yesterday’s weather around Florida and as a result [air traffic control] the initiatives have impacted our operations with most of the northern and southern routes through and to Florida, American Airlines said in a statement. “Today we are recovering from these disruptions.”
Delta Air Lines said the weather in Florida also affected its operations on Saturday. About a fifth of each carrier’s Saturday flights were delayed, or about 600 flights each.