United Airlines struggled Friday to recover from a week of flight delays and cancellations, testing the resilience of its operation as people head to airports ahead of the busy Fourth of July holiday.
The airline’s problems began last weekend in the New York area. At the time, United blamed the disruption on thunderstorms and staff shortages at federal air traffic control facilities. Other airlines were also experiencing flight delays and cancellations at the time, but by Wednesday, United’s troubles had caught on as they spread to its operations across the country.
On Thursday, the situation seemed to improve somewhat. After canceling about a quarter of its flights on Tuesday and Wednesday, United cut about 18 percent of its schedule, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking company. Still, the number of flights canceled by United on Thursday overshadowed more than 520 cancellations by other airlines. SkyWest Airlines, which operates flights for United and several other major airlines, is in second place, canceling just over 100 flights.
The airline said it was closely monitoring the weather in Denver and Chicago, two of its hubs, and hoped for fewer last-minute cancellations. By mid-morning Friday, United had canceled more than 200 flights, or 7 percent of its schedule for the day, according to FlightAware. Another 280 flights were delayed.
“We are seeing continued meaningful improvement today following an overnight effort to improve schedules and match segregated crews and aircraft,” United said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “As the recovery continues, delays and cancellations will continue to decrease as we head into what is expected to be a very busy holiday weekend.”
Pete Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation, mentioned the airline on Twitter on Friday morning, noting that other carriers had recovered from bad weather earlier in the week.
The outage comes during one of the busiest periods for air travel in years. The Transportation Security Administration reported screening more than 2.7 million people at airport checkpoints on Thursday, one of the busiest days since 2019. Only four other days were busier since the start of the pandemic, all in recent weeks. The AAA travel club expects nearly 4.2 million people to fly this weekend, 6.6 percent more than in 2019.
All week, United passengers have reported sleeping in airports and standing in line for hours to rebook flights. Some travelers said they had to wait days to collect checked luggage.
The disruptions have also frustrated pilots and flight attendants. Many have had to wait for hours to be reassigned after flights were cancelled. According to social media reports, some flight attendants also slept in airports. The complaints from the airline’s employees mirror those of flight attendants and pilots at Southwest Airlines during a much larger operational crisis at that company around Christmas.
“The weather hit everyone last weekend, but United is the only airline still struggling to recover and we know why,” said Ken Diaz, president of the United chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, who has more than Represents 25,000 United flight attendants. in a statement Thursday. “The failure of United management to properly staff the crew planners, flight attendant support team and more has exacerbated these operational problems and left passengers and flight attendants waiting for hours for answers.”
Mr. Diaz said the outage caused United to “lost” crews in its system for days. He also said the union had warned management last year about problems that could contribute to more disruptions, but that the airline was “moving forward” with an ambitious flight schedule this summer. United used some of the union’s recommendations to get through the current disruption, including making schedule changes and agreeing to pay flight attendants three times their normal salary to pick up trips until July 6, Mr. . Diaz.
Pilots have expressed similar frustrations.
“It is United Airlines’ management that is failing our loyal customers by ignoring the warning signs and not planning properly,” said Captain Garth Thompson, president of the United branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, which has more than represents 15,000 airline members. pilots, said in a statement.