June 26, 2007

Summertime, and the flying ain't expected to be easy

Whereas one hoped that the aerial transport had its part of annoyances this summer, it has given return in a nightmare for many aviators. In recent weeks, they have struck to the travellers with length delay caused by everything of shortages of work and storms of seasonal thunders snafus of the computer.

"I fly a lot, and I've never seen it this bad this systematically. It's like the Italian train system," said Nick Abbott, a vice president at networking concern Intelliden Corp. who was stuck in Philadelphia for two days after his flight on US Airways was delayed and then canceled last week.

Northwest Airlines Corp., battling with labor unrest, canceled 352 flights on Saturday and Sunday - more than the carrier canceled in the entire month of June last year, according to FlightStats. With airplanes booked full on a busy summer weekend, grounding 13 percent of flights left many travelers stranded, and problems continued Monday. By noon EDT, 100 flights had already been canceled.

Just a week ago, Northwest's pilots union passed a "no confidence" resolution on management, citing shortages this summer of pilots as well as millions of dollars in executive compensation. Northwest said in a statement that the airline was experiencing crew shortages after storms earlier in the month increased duty time, and was relaxing ticket restrictions to accommodate passengers as quickly as possible.

Crowded flights, stormy skies

Summer is always tough for airlines, with large crowds of travelers to handle while contending with summer storms - airplanes usually don't fly through thunderstorms, so routes and airports can be shutdown by bad weather. But this year, with airlines packing planes fuller than ever, even small storms have cascaded into major disruptions for customers. With load factors approaching 90 percent or more on many days, finding available seats when customers miss connections or get stranded by cancellations has been difficult, and some travelers have been stranded for several days.

Carriers say they need to book planes full - and overbook many flights - in order to make profits when oil prices are so high and ticket prices relatively low. But this summer has tested whether airlines have pushed capacity too far.

Runways are often over-booked, too. Some airports, particularly in the crowded Northeast, have seen sharp increases in the number of flights, especially as airlines have substituted more-frequent flights with smaller jets in place of fewer large-jet trips. More congestion makes for longer delays when storms hit, so planes sit for hours waiting to take off.

That is what started a Murphy's Law cascade of problems for Mr. Abbott, the California tech-company vice president, and his young son one week ago. They were returning to San Francisco from Stockholm on US Airways when their 4 p.m. connecting flight leaving Philadelphia on June 19 had to wait hours to take off because of storms to the west. (Their vacation had already been tainted because they arrived in Sweden a day late because of a weather-related missed connection.)

The full of this article's can be read on the source at: The Arizona Republic by The Wall Street Journal

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