To understand how routine airline disruptions have been mushrooming into travel meltdowns affecting a million passengers or more, consider the recent four-day odyssey of a single plane: a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800 called N8661A.
Following that 175-seat jet shows how ill-prepared some airlines have been for the busy restart of travel this year. You can think of N8661A as one piece in a jigsaw puzzle where some of the pieces keep changing shape and size so fast that nothing fits together.
As fliers have found this summer and fall, and more are likely to discover over the holidays, short-staffed airlines are even tougher to get back on track. Cancellations continue for days. Takeoffs in California are delayed hours because of problems in Florida. It seems incomprehensible—when it’s your trip that’s botched and you end up sleeping in a hotel far from your destination.
Thanksgiving, perhaps even more than the Fourth of July, is the quintessential American celebration. Modern codification came to us as a fixed date, thanks to Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 during the Great Depression. Families struggling during our national nightmare had one day to feast and appreciate that, even during the darkest times, Americans had far more to be grateful for than not. This Thanksgiving, we hearken back to those difficult economic days. Policy failures will be responsible for tens of thousands of families getting stranded at airports, paying exorbitant gas prices, and encountering grocery store shortages. Americans face the most expensive Thanksgiving on record.
Annually, millions of passengers travel by plane to see family for Thanksgiving; in 2019, 26 million travelers and crew passed through U.S. airport screening in the 11-day period around the holiday. This year, waves of Americans could see their flights canceled or delayed because of a severe lack of workers within the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In June the agency warned of serious staffing shortages at nearly 150 of the nation’s airports. The situation was so bad that TSA office employees were asked to volunteer at airports for up to 45 days.