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Summer Travel

Fewer Pilots Will Lead to a Summer of Flight Cancellations

Retirements and route changes lead to big disruptions for already-ticketed trips.

An American Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner comes in for a landing at Miami International Airport.

An American Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner comes in for a landing at Miami International Airport.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Lately, a lot of people have been leaving on a jet plane and don’t know when they’ll be back again. That’s because schedule disruptions—including cancellations, delays, and significant route changes—are all on the rise. “It used to be that these types of issues affected 3% to 5% of our clients’ trips,” says Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of Embark Beyond, which manages about $150 million in annual travel bookings. “Now it’s easily 20%, if not 25%.”

Chalk it up in large part to fewer pilots. The shortfall was caused when thousands retired early in the pandemic. Training programs can’t produce aviators fast enough to fill the empty cockpit seats. As a result, airlines are cutting capacity, or the number of aircraft seats multiplied by miles flown, even though demand is surging. According to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium, domestic capacity among the six largest US airlines will be 8.3% below 2019 levels in June and down 6.6% in July.