US flight cancellation problem spreads to Europe


In this week’s developments, the U.S. problem with flight cancellations and delays continues and spreads to Europe; the Justice Department goes to court to protect the government’s authority to impose mask mandates; the list of international routes keeps growing as peak season arrives; JetBlue’s Boston-London service delayed; Southwest begins new San Jose, Sacramento routes; JSX fliers can now earn miles on United; Japan starts to open up to tourists; Italy drops COVID-19 entry requirements; airlines, travel industry reps visit the White House to urge an end to pre-departure testing for inbound travelers; KLM adds premium economy seating; Delta cuts the ribbon on new LaGuardia terminal; two passenger lounges open at Ontario Airport.
The U.S. airline industry got another test of its ability to handle burgeoning passenger numbers over Memorial Day weekend, and it did not do well, as carriers canceled 2,800 departures from Thursday through Monday, leaving thousands of travelers stymied in their hopes of enjoying a brief holiday getaway. This time, the worst problems were at Delta, with more than 800 flights scrapped. And the U.S. isn’t alone in its air travel problems, as the same scenario has been playing out at several European airports in recent days. 

It’s not just holiday weekends. On Thursday, June 2, almost 1,400 U.S. flights were canceled, mostly by American, United and Southwest. The ongoing problems led U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., to send a letter this week to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, asking him to spell out “the steps DOT is taking in response to this past weekend’s cancellations, both to reduce the likelihood of sweeping delays and cancellations from reoccurring and to ensure impacted consumers receive full compensation, including refunds.” The senators said they are “disappointed that these delays and cancellations are occurring so frequently that they are becoming an almost-expected part of travel.” 

The causes for these operational problems are many, including bad weather, air traffic control problems, understaffed airport security checkpoints, and the failure of airlines to staff up sufficiently for soaring passenger numbers as peak season hits. Industry observers are worrying that significant flight delays, cancellations and long airport lines could continue to plague the industry through the summer vacation season. Veteran Wall Street airline analyst Helane Becker told Yahoo! Finance that with a busy summer now arriving, she is “concerned about the industry’s ability to handle the demand.” That demand was evident over the holiday weekend when TSA screened more than 11 million travelers from Thursday through Monday.

As we reported last week, several U.S. carriers — most recently Delta — have recently announced cutbacks in their spring and summer schedules in order to avoid having to cancel flights that they likely won’t be able to operate due to staffing problems. But will it be enough? Consider recent media headlines: “With summer travel heating up, airlines brace for turbulence” (Time Magazine); “Think airport crowds are bad now? Wait ‘til summer” (; “Staffing hitches, fare hikes await summer crowds” (San Francisco Chronicle). 

Travelers across the Atlantic are facing similar disruptions. According to a report this week in, passenger processing has been “chaotic” in recent weeks at London Heathrow, Dublin, Manchester, Amsterdam Schiphol and Stockholm Arlanda airports, “with lines stretching far outside terminal buildings and thousands of passengers missing their flights.” At Amsterdam, KLM briefly suspended ticket sales last weekend after slow security screening created massive passenger backups. In the U.K., Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told airlines to “stop selling tickets for flights they cannot staff” after a spate of cancellations caused widespread disruption for vacationers. As commented this week, “If you’ve got a holiday planned this summer, it’s likely you’re feeling a little nervous.”

Tian Long waits for his flight back home to China at Tom Bradley International Terminal, LAX.

Tian Long waits for his flight back home to China at Tom Bradley International Terminal, LAX.

Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Although there was no indication that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to reinstate its mask requirement for airline travelers, the Biden administration wants the courts to make it clear that the CDC does have the legal authority to do so if it wants to, for COVID or any future public health threat. So the U.S. Department of Justice this week filed an appeal of the federal district court ruling on April 18 that declared CDC was acting outside of its authority when it issued mask requirements for air travel and other public transportation. DOJ’s filing said that none of the arguments posed by the district court ruling “comes close to showing that the CDC has acted outside the ‘zone of reasonableness’” in issuing it mask orders.  

The list of new or revived international routes keeps getting longer now that the peak summer travel season has arrived. This week, the Italian carrier ITA — the successor to Alitalia — introduced its first West Coast route with a daily A330 flight from Los Angeles International to Rome Fiumicino. Finnair, a member of the American/Alaska Oneworld alliance, kicked off service from Alaska’s Seattle hub to Helsinki with three A330-300 flights a week, and Air Canada introduced daily flights from Seattle to Montreal. Vancouver welcomed a new U.S. airline as JetBlue introduced daily A320 flights between the Canadian city and its New York JFK base. Spain’s Iberia Airlines, an American Airlines partner in the Oneworld alliance, began service to Madrid from Washington Dulles and Dallas/Fort Worth, with four weekly flights in both markets.

United started operating the only nonstop service between the U.S. and Croatia with seasonal Newark-Dubrovnik flights, continuing through Sept. 28. Lufthansa added three flights a week between St. Louis and its Frankfurt hub. Ethiopian Airlines began nonstop service between Washington Dulles and Lome, Togo, in West Africa, with continuing service to Addis Ababa. And American added a big new long-haul route to its network with the launch of JFK-Doha, Qatar, nonstops operating seven days a week, with onward connections available to several countries as part of AA’s newly expanded code-share relationship with Qatar Airways. 

United ramp agent Jeff Larimer admires a Boeing 787 Dreamliner preparing for departure in May 2013.

United ramp agent Jeff Larimer admires a Boeing 787 Dreamliner preparing for departure in May 2013.

Craig F. Walker/Denver Post via Getty Images

Next week, United revives its suspended San Francisco-Melbourne route with three weekly 787 flights — the only nonstop service between the U.S. and Melbourne. United also flies to Sydney from San Francisco and Los Angeles. On June 5, United’s new schedule from Newark to Cape Town, South Africa, begins, transforming the route from seasonal to year-round service with three flights a week. (Last month, United also applied with the Transportation Department for authority to begin nonstop Cape Town flights from its Washington Dulles hub, with plans to start flying three times a week as of Nov. 17.) On June 9, United will supplement its recent introduction of service to the Azores and to Mallorca by beginning three weekly flights from Newark to Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. 

JetBlue’s new routes from Boston to London suffered a slight glitch after a delay in aircraft deliveries from Airbus. The start date for the airline’s new daily flights from Boston to London Gatwick has been pushed back from July 19 to Aug. 4, and the launch of Boston-London Heathrow service has been delayed from Aug. 22 to Sept. 20. JetBlue said passengers holding tickets on the affected flights will be rebooked through New York JFK or provided with refunds. The airline plans to use new Airbus A321LR aircraft on the Boston-London routes, as it does on its JFK-London flights.

An arrival at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in February 2020. 

An arrival at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in February 2020. 

MediaNews Group/The Mercury News/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

In domestic markets, Southwest Airlines on June 5 begins new daily service between Mineta San Jose and Eugene, Oregon — its 26th destination out of SJC. Eugene is home of the University of Oregon. On the same date, Southwest plans to kick off daily flights from Sacramento International to Santa Barbara. Low-cost Avelo Airlines, which started flying to Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Fort Collins just months ago, will discontinue its Fort Collins-Las Vegas service on June 16 and Fort Collins-Las Vegas flights on June 24. Both routes operate twice a week. But on the East Coast, Avelo last week introduced three new routes out of its base at Connecticut’s Tweed-New Haven Airport, flying four days a week to Chicago Midway, Raleigh-Durham and Baltimore/Washington International. 

JSX, the California-based regional carrier that operates specially configured regional jets and flies mostly from secondary airports, has inked a frequent flier partnership with United’s MileagePlus program so its customers can earn United miles on JSX flights. “Simply add your MileagePlus number to your JSX profile and hop on,” the carrier said on its website. The Points Guy adds more details on the partnership, including that miles earned will range from 50% to 100% of miles flown, based on distance and fare class, and they will not count towards MileagePlus elite status. “As of now, there also isn’t a way to redeem United miles for JSX flights,” The Points Guy noted. Through August, an introductory promotion will give MileagePlus members a “mileage multiplier” of five to 11 times actual miles flown on JSX, depending on their status in the program. JSX already has a mileage partnership with JetBlue’s TrueBlue program, and that remains in place.

An airplane flies over a rooftop in the Shibuya district of Tokyo in August 2021.

An airplane flies over a rooftop in the Shibuya district of Tokyo in August 2021.

DAVID GANNON/AFP via Getty Images

Japan, which recently started accepting international business travelers after keeping itself shut off from the world for two years, is now starting to welcome foreign tourists as well — but only on a very limited basis. On June 10, the country will begin to allow a small number of tourist visitors from 98 countries with relatively low COVID case rates, including the U.S., but they must be members of organized tour groups, not independent travelers. The country will increase the cap on daily international visitors from the current 10,000 to 20,000 — still just a fraction of pre-pandemic levels. All foreign visitors must get a negative COVID test result before boarding their flights to Japan, and some may be retested after arrival. They will also face strict mask-wearing requirements during their tours.

Across the Atlantic, Italy is the latest major European destination to eliminate COVID-based entry restrictions. As of this week, international travelers arriving in Italy will no longer have to show a vaccination certificate, proof of recovery from COVID, or a negative test result. According to a list published this week by, European nations that have now ended all COVID entry rules include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. The United Kingdom, which is no longer a member of the E.U., has also dropped all COVID entry requirements.  

Despite a growing trend among foreign nations to drop COVID entry requirements for international air travelers, the United States continues to insist that anyone flying here — foreigners and citizens alike, vaccinated or not — must still get a negative test result before boarding their plane. The continuation of that policy has been aggravating the U.S. airline and travel industries, especially as the peak summer season has arrived, so this week they once again appealed to the Biden administration to eliminate that testing rule.

Executives from Airlines for America (A4A, the leading airline trade group) and the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), an umbrella group for the industry, met with administration officials at the White House to press their case. “Across the country, states that rely on travel and tourism to support their local economies are paying the price. There is simply no scientific justification for maintaining the pre-departure testing requirement,” said A4A CEO Nicholas Calio. USTA CEO Roger Dow added that it is “long past time for the Biden administration to remove the pre-departure testing requirement for vaccinated air travelers to the U.S. While nearly all other U.S. industries are operating without restrictions, the travel industry remains disproportionately harmed by this requirement, even though the science no longer supports it.”

KLM flight attendants pull their trolley bags as they make their way to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in May 2022.

KLM flight attendants pull their trolley bags as they make their way to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in May 2022.


KLM is the latest international carrier to install a premium economy section on its aircraft. The company’s new Premium Comfort class will include 21 to 28 seats, depending on aircraft type, and will be introduced on KLM’s North American routes. “It is anticipated that passengers will be able to book Premium Comfort to a growing range of destinations from the end of July,” KLM said. Situated between business class and regular economy, Premium Comfort seats will be wider than standard seats, with more legroom, a larger video screen and a footrest. Customers on intercontinental flights will get one or two hot meals, coffee and dessert and a variety of snacks and cocktails, along with “more flexible baggage arrangements and preferred check-in and boarding,” KLM said.

Just weeks after it cut the ribbon on its rebuilt Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International, Delta has now done the same at New York LaGuardia with the opening of its Terminal C there. The rebuilt facility includes a new 10-gate Concourse E along with new check-in, security and baggage claim facilities. Concourse E is the second of four new Delta concourses to open in Delta’s LGA terminal reconstruction project. “The airline will fully complete the entire four-concourse terminal by the end of 2024, almost two years earlier than originally planned,” Delta said. “Ultimately Terminals C and D will consolidate into one state-of-the-art facility, spanning 1.3 million square feet and featuring 37 gates across four concourses.” The new Delta facilities at LaGuardia — where it is the largest airline, with up to 255 daily flights — will also feature “the largest Delta Sky Club in the system” when it is finished, the airline said, with seating for 600 guests and total space of 34,000 square feet.  

Ontario International Airport in southern California has opened two new premium passenger lounges unaffiliated with any airline. They’re called Aspire Lounges, operated by Swissport International AG, with one in Terminal 2 and one in Terminal 4. Swissport operates lounges in 38 airports around the world and broke into the U.S. market earlier this year with a lounge at San Diego International. Individual visits to the Ontario lounges cost $37 and can be booked at They’re also open to members of the Priority Pass lounge program and eligible American Express cardholders. Amenities include hot and cold food and beverages, seating with power outlets and high-speed Wi-Fi.

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