US air travel rebounds to pandemic high

Air travel in the U.S. hit a new high since the pandemic began, even amid high numbers of flight delays,  cancellations and staffing concerns. 

The Transportation Safety Administration reported that more than 2.2 million people went through airport security on Sunday, which is the highest number reported since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Even so, the number is still down 17% from the same day in 2019, showing that a significant percentage of people are still holding off on traveling, or at least traveling by air, as the pandemic continues.

It’s probably good that air travel isn’t heavier, since there have been a high number of flight delays and cancellations in recent weeks. Earlier in July, JetBlue delayed 51 percent of its flights, Southwest Airlines delayed 39 percent of its flights and American Airlines delayed 34 percent of its flights, the Hill reported.

Pilot shortage a factor

And just last week, Spirit Airlines canceled hundreds of flights around the country during a two-day span. While some of the delays were due to weather, the Allied Pilots Association, a union for American Airlines pilots, said that pilots who were laid off during the pandemic were required to go through a certification process to fly again, which was hampering efforts to get to full capacity.

Airlines got $54 billion in federal aid to keep staff on their payrolls, but they still encouraged pilots to take early retirement and leaves of absence that led to the current shortage.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said in June that the military was the source of most commercial pilots and it wasn’t training enough pilots anymore to keep up with demand.

“The military produces far fewer pilots today than they did in the Vietnam and the Cold War era and it’s hard to become a pilot — a commercial airline pilot on your own — if you’re not going through the military,” he said.

Economy struggling with impact of shutdowns

Even so, the billions in federal assistance and the resurgence in air travel allowed airlines including Delta, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines to make a profit in the second quarter of 2021 for the first time since the first quarter of 2020.

The glitches are just another indication that it’s much easier said than done to shut down nearly an entire industry, then bring it back again.

While both parties are busy blaming each other for the uneven economic recovery, and there are factors that could be looked at like the lengthy federal unemployment boost, some of the difficulty is that the American economy is massive and can’t just be monkeyed with at will.

At least not without long-lasting consequences that will likely take longer than a few months or even a year to overcome.

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