The Pilot Shortage

America is facing a lot of shortages right now. One of them is a shortage of airline pilots, which is helping to make air travel a bit of a crap shoot.

This past weekend was a challenging one for the air travel industry, with many flights being delayed or cancelled. One of our flights was abruptly cancelled for no stated reason, requiring us to do some on-the-fly rebooking. According to the linked article, 370 flights were cancelled over the weekend. Some of the flight cancellations, and other flight delays, were attributed to severe weather in different parts of the country, but “staff shortages” also played a role.

The pilot unions at the major airlines say that the airlines haven’t been quick enough to replace pilots who have retired or left the job during the COVID pandemic, when the demand for air travel plummeted and some pilots objected to vaccination requirements. Now the demand for air travel has increased substantially, and there just aren’t enough pilots to meet the demand for flights.

The pilot shortage is affecting airline decisions in other ways, too. American Airlines has decided to stop flying to three airports–in Toledo, Ohio and Ithaca and Islip, New York–due to the pilot shortage. The pilot shortage has hit the small regional carriers, like the American Eagle brand, the hardest, as experienced pilots are lured from those brands to work at the mainline carriers, which can offer better pay, benefits, and work schedules. That’s tough news for cities like Toledo, where American’s departure means the airport will not be serviced by any major airline.

The other thing about a pilot shortage is that it won’t be solved overnight. It takes time and lots of training to become an airline pilot, and we passengers wouldn’t want the airlines to cut corners in finding pilots. That suggests that travelers should brace themselves for more staffing-related cancellations in the months ahead.