American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, and United Airlines have all signaled they intend to cut flights to New York City this summer as the United States faces an ongoing shortage of air traffic controllers.
As the peak summer travel season approaches, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) convened a meeting last week with the major carriers to figure out ways to minimize the impact of lower staffing levels.
"The FAA discussed efforts to reduce the air traffic controller training backlog at many FAA air traffic facilities, but pointed out that staffing levels at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (N90) continue to be below targets," the agency said in a press release.
Certified Professional Controller staffing stands at about 80% nationally, the FAA reported in March, but in New York City's N90 region, the level is only at 54%, indicating an urgent need to recruit and train additional controllers.
In response, the four major airlines said they will slash flights by up to 10%. The reduction in capacity is bound to result in increased fares and less convenient flight options.
So far, no flights have been removed from the schedule. Before that happens, airlines will take a look at the size of the aircraft currently scheduled to fly, and in some cases they could decide to make up some of the capacity losses by using larger planes with more seating capacity.
Experts predict smaller cities are likely to bear the greatest burden of the cuts because they tend to serve fewer passengers on smaller aircraft and cannot be consolidated with additional departures.
When will things be getting back to normal? Not for a while. Staffing levels are lagging because the FAA suspended training in 2020, during the Trump administration, for safety reasons amid the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Training has resumed, but Airline Weekly reports that it takes about 3 years to fully prepare a new air traffic controller.
Airlines are suffering pilot shortages for similar reasons.
Understaffing is a chronic problem that's presenting a challenge to other aspects of the travel industry in 2023.
The U.S. State Department is facing its own labor issues that have forced the wait time for a new passport to soar to as long as 13 weeks.
If you're flying to the New York City region this summer—especially to the busy JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark airports—then it's wise to buy your ticket early, before the scarcity crunch sets in and prices rise.
Passengers from smaller cities might need to find ways to change planes in larger airport hubs if they want to continue on to New York.