FILE - A traveler looking at a flight board with delays and cancellations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., Jan. 11, 2023. In a report Friday, investigators said that an increase in flight cancellations as travel recovers from the pandemic was mostly due to factors that airlines controlled, including cancellations for maintenance problems or a lack of a crew. Congressional investigators said in a report Friday that an increase in flight cancellations as travel recovered from the pandemic was mostly due to factors that airlines controlled, including cancellations for maintenance issues or lack of a crew.
The Government Accountability Office also said airlines are taking longer to recover from disruptions such as storms. Surges in cancellations in late 2021 and early 2022 lasted longer than they did before the pandemic, the GAO said.
Many of budget airlines have caused cancellations, while the biggest carriers have also made more unforced mistakes, according to government data.
Airlines have clashed with the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg over responsibility for high rates of canceled and delayed flights in the past two years. Airlines allege the government is at fault for not having enough air traffic controllers, while Buttigieg has blamed the carriers.
The GAO report was asked by Republicans in the House Transportation Committee. The GAO said it analyzed flight data from January 2018 to April 2022 to understand why travelers suffered more delays and cancellations as travel began to recover from the pandemic.
The GAO said that weather was the leading cause of cancellations in the two years before the pandemic, but the percentage of airline-caused cancellations began increasing in early 2021. From October until December 2021, airlines caused 60% or more cancellations - significantly higher than at any time in 2018 or 2019.
Airlines were often understaffed at this time. The airline took $54 billion in taxpayer money to keep workers on the job, but they reduced workers anyway by paying them incentives to quit.
As travel resumed, the airlines struggled to replace thousands of departed workers. They now have more workers than in 2019 - and the cancellation rate this year is lower than during the same period in 2019, according to data from tracking service FlightAware.
In 2019, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines had the highest percentages of airline-caused cancellations, easily topping 50%. In late 2021, Allegiant Air, Spirit Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Frontier were joined by low-fare carriers Allegiant Air, Spirit Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Frontier, each of which were responsible for 60% or more of their cancellations.
Southwest, Delta, American and United were among those affected by the airline's percentage of cancellations. The figures did not include the 16,700 cancellations in Southwest that followed the breakdown of the airline's crew-rescheduling system.
The GAO said the transportation department has increased its oversight of airline-scheduling practices. The Transportation and Justice departments are investigating whether Southwest planned more flights than it could handle before last December's meltdown.
The incident in Southwest has generated calls for clarification of passenger-compensation rules.