Airline chaos and high gas prices put damper on Fourth of July weekend

AAA told Alpha News about 48 million people across the nation will be traveling.

Delta planes line the tarmac at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. (Shutterstock)

High gas prices, flight delays and cancellations may put a damper on the Fourth of July weekend.

“The perfect storm is occurring,” said Capt. Jason Ambrosi, chairman of the executive council for Delta’s pilots union. “Demand is back, and pilots are flying record amounts of overtime, but we are still seeing management cancelling, leaving our customers stranded and their holiday plans ruined.”

Jeff Lea, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said the days leading up to the Fourth of July weekend are when they see peak volume for air travel. MSP Airport officials are expecting their busiest summer since the pandemic, he said.

AAA confirmed about 48 million people across the nation will be traveling — 42 million will travel by car and 3.5 million by air.

Air travel chaos 

According to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), scheduling issues continue to plague both customers and pilots and many are concerned customers’ plans were already disrupted going into the holiday weekend.

Numerous news sources have reported delays and cancellations are due to worker shortages, but ALPA President Capt. Joe DePete said cancellations are due to management’s failure to schedule air travel properly.

“They are trying to blame frontline aviation workers for their missteps. It is unfortunate that some continue to hide behind a made up ‘pilot shortage’ slogan to cover for their mismanagement and ongoing efforts to undermine safety,” DePete said in a statement to Alpha News. “We cannot allow the airlines to mislead the public about their summer travel planning mistakes, nor can we allow them to mislead the public about the supply of pilots.”

On Thursday, Delta pilots held informational pickets across the country including at MSP. Hundreds of off-duty pilots picketed outside Terminal 1 in an effort to get new contracts for pay improvements, better retirement benefits, job protections and changes to pilot schedules.

“I think there’s anticipation that there’s going to be some challenges across the industry, meaning all airlines or many airlines might be facing [delays or cancellations],” said Lea. “I think for the everyday traveler it’s just important to stay in touch with the airlines. Airlines have done a better job of giving any advance changes to status.”

In a message to customers, CEO of Delta Ed Bastian apologized to anyone who encountered delays and cancellations.

“We’ve spent years establishing Delta as the industry leader in reliability, and though the majority of our flights continue to operate on time, this level of disruption and uncertainty is unacceptable,” Bastian wrote. “You choose to invest your time, resources and loyalty with Delta and you’ve rightly come to expect a world-class experience on every flight, and that includes the best reliability in the business.”

Delta says it’s brought on around 15,000 new employees since the start of 2021.

High gas prices

Americans traveling by road will experience their own setbacks due to record-breaking gas prices and inflation.

As of July 1, the national average for unleaded gas was at $4.84, according to AAA. Prices are up more than 50% compared with last year. The average Minnesotan is paying $4.69 at the pump, which is slightly down from a week ago at $4.72.

AAA said high gas prices are causing travelers to scale back their plans, go shorter distances or cancel altogether. However, AAA doesn’t expect traveling plans to change a significant amount during the holiday weekend.

“This is because they’re finding ways to watch their budget and make sure that this trip can still happen,” said Meredith Mitts, public affairs specialist with AAA. “Staying in slightly lower cost hotels, eating out at slightly less fancy restaurants or trying to do more budget-friendly activities.”

Mitts reminded drivers about road safety. She recommends travelers prep their vehicles ahead of time and stay buckled up in the car if they have to stop on the side of the road.