Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Airlines

U.S. Senate Confirms New FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker

8 months ago

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed former United Airlines executive Michael Whitaker as the next administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Whitaker, who most recently was chief operating officer of Hyundai-owned urban air mobility startup Supernal, was confirmed with unanimous bipartisan support late on Tuesday. He is the first confirmed FAA administrator since former administrator Steve Dickson stepped down in March 2022.

“Whitaker is the right person at the right time to lead the FAA into the next generation of aviation,” American Airlines said in a statement. “His sterling qualifications in the industry and robust experience as a former FAA Deputy Administrator will be invaluable as the FAA modernizes our nation’s aviation system and maintains the highest levels of safety across the industry.”

The question of qualifications derailed the confirmation of President Biden’s first nominee to lead the aviation regulator, Denver airport chief Phil Washington. Washington, who was an advisor to Biden in the 2020 presidential campaign, was known as an effective leader of transit agencies in both Denver and Los Angeles. Senators, however, questioned Washington’s aviation know how and delayed his confirmation, which eventually led to him withdrawing from consideration in March.

Whitaker, in comparison, has experience at United, as a deputy administrator of the FAA, and in the emerging urban air mobility segment.

“Mike will take the reins at a pivotal time for the FAA,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said. “The national airspace is busier and more complex than ever and the challenges are many, from addressing serious close call incidents that have put the entire aviation community on notice, to the need to keep up the FAA’s momentum on air traffic control hiring and training, to continuing to be creative and collaborative with airlines to keep cancellations low after the spike in disruptions last summer.”

The FAA faces a shortage of air traffic controllers that was a contributing factor in the numerous delays at the New York-area airports this summer. Current forecasts estimate that, barring a government shutdown and a lapse in funding, it will take about five years to close the roughly 3,000-controller shortage across the U.S. Whitaker will lead these efforts in his new role.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with the administrator to address the critical issues facing our National Airspace System, including air traffic control staffing shortages and NextGen [air traffic control] modernization implementation,” aviation trade group Airlines for America said. “These complex challenges underscore why steady, permanent leadership at the agency is necessary, especially given the anticipated growth in demand for passenger and cargo air transportation.”

Airlines

Mexico’s Airlines Can Resume U.S. Growth Following Safety Upgrade

9 months ago

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration upgraded the safety rating of Mexico’s aviation regulator to its highest rung, Category 1, on Thursday. That allows Mexican airlines to add new flights to the U.S. and resume their partnerships with U.S. carriers, including Aeromexico’s joint venture with Delta Air Lines.

The move has been expected for months with Mexico’s three main airlines — Aeromexico, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris — all eager to resume growth to their largest international market. They have been barred from adding new flights and destinations since the FAA downgraded Mexico to Category 2 in May 2021.

Volaris and Aeromexico jets at the Morelia airport
Volaris and Aeromexico can resume growth to the U.S. (Rod ajl/Wikimedia)

TD Cowen analyst Helane Becker, citing conversations with Volaris management the week before, wrote Tuesday that she expects the budget airline to add flights on existing routes and expand U.S. flying from its Guadalajara hub following the safety rating upgrade. New flights would likely begin in the fourth quarter, or by December. Volaris is Mexico’s largest airline.

In addition to new flights, Volaris is expected to begin a delayed codeshare partnership with Frontier Airlines with the safety rating change. And Viva Aerobus could now implement its proposed joint venture with Allegiant Air if U.S. authorities sign off; U.S. review is on pause due to concerns over Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s efforts to move cargo airlines to Mexico City’s new Felipe Angeles airport from Mexico City International Airport.

Airlines

United CEO Apologizes for Flying Private While United Planes Were Cancelled

12 months ago

On the same day, Wednesday, that United hub Newark Airport, JFK and LaGuardia saw more than 2,000 flight cancellations by a variety of carriers, CEO Scott Kirby chartered a private jet from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Denver, according to published reports.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby at Denver airport

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby at the Denver airport in May 2023. Source: United Airlines

It wasn’t a good look for the CEO and airline when United’s customers were dealing with days of delays, cancellations, missing luggage, and thwarted plans, and so Kirby’s apology came Friday.

“Taking a private jet was the wrong decision because it was insensitive to our customers who were waiting to get home,” Kirby said in a statement. “I sincerely apologize to our customers and our team members who have been working around-the-clock for several days – often through severe weather – to take care of our customers.”

United reportedly stated that Kirby, and not the United, paid for the flight from Teterboro, which is about 18 miles from Newark Airport.

Kirby vowed “to better demonstrate my respect for the dedication of our team members and the loyalty of our customers.”

In an internal memo to staff on Monday, Kirby laid some of the blame — in addition to the uncooperative weather the previous weekend — on FAA under-staffing, according to Airline Weekly

Kirby told staff the FAA “reduced the arrival rates by 40% and the departure rates by 75%” at Newark on Saturday, June 24. “That put everyone behind the eight ball when weather actually did hit on Sunday and was further compounded by FAA staffing shortages Sunday evening.”

“The FAA frankly failed us this weekend,” he added.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg acknowledged to CNN on Wednesday that there were some staffing issues at Newark, but added “United Airlines has some internal issues they need to work through.”

Meanwhile, United has a travel waiver in place for extreme weather on the U.S. East Coast through today, Saturday, July 1.

Airlines

Iberia Tech Failure Causes Delays and Cancellations

1 year ago

Spain’s Iberia has been hit by a computer glitch, affecting its booking and boarding system.

“Due to a connectivity issue with our systems, today’s flights are experiencing delays,” it said on social media on Saturday. “We apologize to our customers and thank you for your understanding. Everyone at Iberia is working to solve it as soon as possible.”

The weekend disruption hit dozens of services across Spain and Europe, according to reports.

The software malfunction at Iberia, which is part of International Consolidated Airlines Group, is the latest in a series of computer blunders to strike the aviation industry.

The U.S. experienced a widespread shutdown of flights earlier this month, due to problems with the Federal Aviation Administration’s systems. It was forced to restore its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which alerts pilots of potential hazards.

Southwest Airlines has taken a considerable financial hit owing to issues assigning crew to flights during the Christmas vacation caused by outdated optimization technology. The airlines has pledged to spend $1 billion on technology upgrades.

Old technology is increasingly contributing to mass flight cancellations, as travel returns. In Spain, passenger numbers are also rapidly returning to pre-pandemic levels. Passenger numbers through Spanish airport operator Aena’s 46 airports in December were at 98 percent of three years earlier.

Iberia reported that it had fixed the problem on Sunday. “Our systems have regained connectivity. Online billing and check-in are back to normal. We apologize to all customers for the inconvenience caused and appreciate your understanding,” it said.

Airlines

BREAKING: U.S. Flights Grounded Following FAA Computer Glitch

1 year ago

Flights across the U.S. have been grounded due to a computer glitch with the Federal Aviation Administration’s systems, according to reports.

The FAA is working to restore its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which alerts pilots of potential hazards.

“The FAA is working to restore its Notice to Air Missions System,” it posted on Twitter earlier. “We are performing final validation checks and reloading the system now. Operations across the National Airspace System are affected. We will provide frequent updates as we make progress.”

A total of 21,464 flights are scheduled to depart airports in the U.S. today, according to data from Cirium, with nearly 2.9 million seats available on these departures.

American Airlines has the most departures from US airports today (4,819), followed by Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

The FAA in a later notice said it had ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. Eastern Time to “allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.”

Shortly before 9 a. m. it lifted the ground stop, posting on social media: “Normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually across the U.S. following an overnight outage to the Notice to Air Missions system that provides safety info to flight crews. The ground stop has been lifted. We continue to look into the cause of the initial problem.”

United Airlines told customers that they may continue to see some delays and cancellations as it works to restore its schedule, and that they should check its app or website.

The airline also activated a travel waiver for any customers who needs to change their plans, including offering refunds for customers who no longer want to travel.

The U.S. Travel Association said the “catastrophic system failure” caused 3,000 flight delays and several hundred cancellations across the country, and called for significant upgrades to be made.

“Americans deserve an end-to-end travel experience that is seamless and secure,” said president and CEO Geoff Freeman in a statement. “And our nation’s economy depends on a best-in-class air travel system. We call on federal policymakers to modernize our vital air travel infrastructure to ensure our systems are able to meet demand safely and efficiently.”

Airlines for America said it was working with the FAA and awaiting further information regarding when these issues will be resolved. It has urged travelers to download their airline’s app, visit the carrier’s website and ensure their contact information is accurate on travel records.

This breaking news story is being updated throughout the day

Airlines

Biden Administration Extends Mandatory Rest for Flight Attendants

2 years ago

The Biden administration is extending the mandatory rest times for flight attendants to 10 hours, implementing a rule that Congress passed four years ago.

U.S. airlines must implement the new cabin crew rest period, which is currently eight hours, within 90 days under the rule signed by Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Billy Nolen on Tuesday. Pilots currently receive a minimum of 10 hours rest.

“I can tell you first hand that well rested crew members are important to safety,” Nolen said. “Flight attendants are the foundation of aviation’s safety culture starting with cabin safety.”

Delta Flight Attendant
(Delta Air Lines)

The extended rest period comes after a challenging few years for flight attendants. The number of unruly passengers onboard flights in the U.S. spiked during the pandemic as people objected to mask mandates and other inflight safety rules. While incidents have fallen in recent months, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said Tuesday that they remain too high.

“As aviation’s first responders and last line of defense, it is critical that we are well rested and ready to perform our duties,” Nelson said. “Covid has only exacerbated the safety gap with long duty days, short nights, and combative conditions on planes.”

It is unclear whether the extended rest periods will have any impact on airline workforces, which were strained during the peak summer travel period. However, flight attendant staffing was rarely cited as an issue, and the new rule will be implemented during the slower winter season when there is more staffing flexibility.

The extended flight attendant rest period was passed by Congress in the last FAA reauthorization bill in 2018 but not implemented by the Trump administration.

Airlines

United Airlines Joins Delta Citing Air Traffic Control for Delays

2 years ago

More U.S. airlines are placing blame on the Federal Aviation Administration for the flight disruptions that are plaguing the industry this summer. On Tuesday, United Airlines Chief Operating Officer Jon Roitman called out the regulator, saying: “There are just more flights scheduled industrywide than the ATC staffing system can handle (particularly in [New York] and [Florida]).”

“Until that is resolved, we expect the U.S. aviation system will remain challenged this summer and beyond,” Roitman continued. “We’re eager to do our part and will continue to stay in touch with the federal government on possible solutions that will positively impact customers.”

(Cliff Owen/The Associated Press)

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, in an employee town hall on June 29, made similar comments about air traffic control staffing, calling the organization the “most stressed” among aviation industry stakeholders. Those stakeholders also include airlines themselves, airports, and the Transportation Security Administration.

Roitman’s comments are the latest in a war of words between the Department of Transportation, which includes the FAA, and airlines over flight disruptions this summer. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has denied that air traffic control staffing is an issue and pointed the finger at airlines, while the industry has said that their issues are compounded by the air traffic control issues.

Either way, travelers can likely expect further travel delays and disruptions when they fly this summer.

Airlines

Norman Mineta, Transportation Secretary on 9/11, Dies at 90

2 years ago

Norman Y. Mineta, the Transportation Secretary who closed the U.S. airspace and ordered the grounding of 4,000 planes in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has died. He was 90 years old.

Mineta died at his home in Edgewater, Md., of a heart ailment, John Flaherty, his former chief of staff, said.

Mineta, a first-generation Japanese American, began his public career in local politics in California. In 1971, he became the first Asian American elected to represent a major American city, San Jose, his native city and the second-largest in California. In 1974, he began a 10-term congressional career, representing Silicon Valley.

During his time in Congress, Mineta was instrumental in getting the U.S. government to apologize and award reparations to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. This was personal for Mineta: When he was 10 years old, he and his family were sent from California to an internment camp in Wyoming. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Americans of Japanese descent interned in February 1942, two months after the Japanese bombarded Pearl Harbor.

After his tenure in Congress and a subsequent stint in the private sector, Mineta served briefly as Commerce Secretary in the Clinton administration, the first Asian American to serve in that role. President George W. Bush tapped him to be Transportation Secretary, the sole Democrat in Bush’s cabinet.

Mineta acted decisively after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He and then-FAA Administrator Jane Garvey took the unprecedented step of closing the U.S. airspace, forcing the grounding of more than 4,000 aircraft, and requiring planes in the air to land immediately, at the closest airport. The airspace remained closed for more than two days, a period which has not been repeated since.

Mineta led the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and oversaw the security protocols that endure to this day. A civil rights activist, Mineta famously opposed racial profiling by the new TSA in its security checks at airports. The TSA was created by an act of Congress in November 2001 and eventually was folded into the new Homeland Security Department.

In 2001, his hometown renamed its airport the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in recognition of his service to the city.

Norman Mineta was born on Nov. 12, 1931, in San Jose. After the war, he returned to California and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1953. He is survived by his wife Danealia, four sons, and 11 grandchildren.