The Sunshine State has cast gloom over air travel.
The spate of flight cancellations and delays across the country has been exacerbated by the difficulties of flying to and from Florida, according to a report.
About a third of all flights from any major airline cross Florida’s airspace, but pilots are at the mercy of elements beyond their control — from changeable weather to air traffic routinely packed with military jets and missile launches — airlines say.
Staff shortages – at airports and airlines – have also hampered the sector after the lifting of pandemic-related lockdown measures. All in all, it makes for a perfect storm of travel chaos that has left fliers frustrated.
“It’s been a cluster and a half,” Andrew Levy, the CEO of startup Avelo Airlines, told The Wall Street Journal.
Levy described the difficulty of expanding into Florida, where delays have sometimes left pilots waiting on the ground for hours before taking off.
“It has caused huge problems for us.”
Florida is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country, but the airports seem to be struggling to handle the number of inbound passengers.
Federal data released in June showed that the Sunshine State’s four major airports — Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Miami — were in the top five for the worst on-time flight arrivals.
Only Newark Airport in New Jersey, which ranked first in the lowest percentage of on-time arrivals, beat the Florida hubs.
Orlando, which had the second-worst rate of on-time arrivals, saw more than 1,200 inbound flights canceled from early this year through June 14, according to federal data. In all of 2019, there were just over 560 cancellations.
Cancellations and delays were also above the national average in busy hubs such as Palm Beach and Fort Myers.
Spirit Airlines, the popular low-cost airline, is dissatisfied with the staff shortage at the Jacksonville Air Traffic Control Center.
Matt Klein, the airline’s chief commercial officer, told a recent earnings call that the company is “limited in the number of flights we can operate to the Jacksonville air traffic control center.”
Spirit said Florida accounted for 40% of its flight operations in the continental United States.
“If this restriction didn’t exist, Florida to the continental US would probably be closer to 50% of our network,” Klein told investors.
Spirit, which agreed to sell itself to JetBlue for $3.8 billion late last month, reported a net loss of $52.4 million in the second quarter.
The Federal Aviation Administration told the Journal it plans to expand staff at the Jacksonville airport.
The agency also said it plans to hire 1,500 new air traffic controllers nationwide starting October 1 next fiscal year.
“Where demand has increased, the FAA is adding additional controllers,” the FAA told the Journal.