Airlines prepare for record summer travel, new FAA rules

ORLANDO, Fla. – Whether by plane, train or car, travelers can expect large crowds this summer.

AAA expects 43.8 million people to drive at least 50 miles or more during the Memorial Day holiday, kicking off the summer travel season.

What you need to know

  • AAA expects 43.8 million people to drive at least 50 miles during the Memorial Day holiday
  • Airlines for America expects U.S. airlines to transport 270 million people worldwide in June, July and August
  • A new FAA rule takes effect in October requiring airlines to proactively refund passengers for flights that are significantly delayed or canceled
  • Breeze Airways opens new crew base based in Orlando as MCO grows

Airlines for America estimates that U.S. airlines will break records during the summer months of June, July and August, carrying more than 270 million people worldwide – a 6.3% increase from last year. The same airlines are expected to offer more than 26,000 flights per day in the summer.

“The pandemic has reminded us that we love to travel,” said Danny Cox, vice president of guest experiences at Breeze Airways.

The Utah-based budget airline launched its service three years ago, with Orlando International Airport (MCO) being one of its first markets.

“We’re seeing very high demand, it’s very good,” Cox said. “Orlando is one of those places that Breeze loves because it has everything. In the winter, when it's very cold up north, it's warm for people when they come down, and all year round, when school is closed, you can escape to these wonderful attractions and wonderful weather.”

As part of its efforts to meet increasing demand, Breeze is expanding its MCO workforce, according to Cox.

In April, Breeze established Orlando as a crew base for pilots and flight attendants. In May, Breeze hired customer service representatives to take over from an outside service provider and will soon hire Orlando-based aircraft mechanics.

This is part of the growth that MCO is experiencing and is now one of the busiest airports in the country. Dozens of airlines plan to offer flights between MCO and 98 domestic destinations and 45 international destinations in June.

Most of these flights are flown by the major airlines, including American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, United and Southwest, which faced a multimillion-dollar operational collapse in late 2022 that cost Southwest millions in revenue and $140 million in fines from the FAA.

More flights could also potentially mean more cancellations or delays for passengers, which is why U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said his agency is watching airlines closely.

“We have initiated some reviews to see if airlines are realistically maintaining their schedules, because if they schedule a flight that they don't believe they can operate, that violates some of our standards,” Buttigieg said.

A new FAA rule takes effect in October requiring airlines to proactively refund passengers for flights that are significantly delayed or canceled.

“Airlines were already supposed to refund you if your flight was canceled or significantly delayed, but until our rule, that wasn't really the norm,” Buttigieg said. “Sometimes you had to ask for it, sometimes you had to haggle for it or even fight for it just to get your money back. Our rule changes that.”

According to the FAA, the new rules, which take effect in October, ensure passengers are eligible for a refund if:

Cancelled or significantly changed flights: Passengers are entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled or significantly changed and they do not accept alternative transportation or travel credits. For the first time, the rule defines “significant change.” Significant changes to a flight include departure or arrival times that are more than 3 hours domestically and more than 6 hours abroad; Departures or arrivals from another airport; increasing the number of connections; cases where passengers are downgraded to a lower class of service; or connections at different airports or flights on different aircraft that are less accessible or accommodating to a person with a disability.

Significantly delayed baggage return: Passengers who file a mishandled baggage claim are entitled to a refund of their checked baggage fee if it is not delivered within 12 hours of their domestic flight's arrival at the gate or 15 to 30 hours of their international flight's arrival at the gate, depending on the length of the flight.

Additional services not provided: Passengers are entitled to a refund of the fee they paid for an additional service – such as Wi-Fi, seat selection or in-flight entertainment – if an airline does not offer that service.

airlines for America, A trade group representing some of the aviation industry's largest airlines said airlines were confident they could handle the record number of travelers. The group said airlines had made significant investments in technology to improve services and schedules.

“Our airlines have adjusted their flight schedules to reflect the current conditions in our National Airspace System (NAS). This helps alleviate some of these pressure points and ensures a smooth summer travel season,” said Rebecca Spicer, Senior Vice President of Communications at A4A.

The airlines argue that the FAA bears some of the blame for the impact on flights due to a lack of staff at the air traffic control towers.

Secretary Buttigieg said his agency hired 1,500 new air traffic controllers last year and another 1,800 would be hired later this year. Congress passed a five-year FAA reauthorization bill that would fund the hiring of 2,000 more air traffic controllers.

On Wednesday, on your evening news on Spectrum News 13, we'll take you to an air traffic control training center at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach to see how local students are playing a role in attracting passengers today

Anna Harden

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