Travelers in a packed shuttle bus to Kennedy Airport over...

Travelers in a packed shuttle bus to Kennedy Airport over last month's Memorial Day weekend, when air travel began a surge to near pre-pandemic levels.

Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Summer travel has returned to near pre-pandemic levels, and so have the headaches and unpleasantries. Both were on display over the holiday weekend, as passengers at metropolitan area airports dealt with canceled or delayed flights, and airlines struggled to meet surging demand.

On Sunday, 922 flights that either originated or arrived at U.S. airports were canceled, according to Flightaware.com, a website that tracks flight information. That included 52 canceled flights at Newark Liberty International, 41 at LaGuardia Airport, 40 at Kennedy Airport and one at Long Island MacArthur Airport.

American Airlines said Monday it will end service from MacArthur in September, citing a regional pilot shortage affecting the airline industry.

The cancellations and delays came as air travel has almost recovered to levels not seen since before the pandemic, according to a report earlier this month by credit rating firm Moody’s Investors Service. And as COVID-19 travel restrictions have gone away, airlines have struggled to meet increased demand.

From Thursday through Sunday, two major U.S.-based airlines, Delta and American, each canceled 7% of flights scheduled to originate or arrive in the United States, according to Flightaware.com data. That includes 910 American and 846 Delta flights.

Delays and cancellations led to the Delta pilots union to issue an open letter to customers last week, laying blame at the company’s feet.

“We empathize and share in your frustration over the delays, cancellations, and disrupted travel plans you’ve experienced,” the letter said. “We agree; it is unacceptable.”

Delta pilots have been flying a record amount of overtime in 2022, the letter said.

In a statement Monday, Delta said: “A variety of factors continue to impact our operations, including challenges with air traffic control, weather and unscheduled absences in some work groups. Canceling a flight is always our last resort, and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience to their travel plans.”

In its report earlier this month, Moody’s Investors Service said that airport passenger traffic in April reached 91% of the 2019 level, the highest level since the pandemic began. It noted, however, that levels slipped in May to 90% compared to May 2019, observing that “this slight decrease could indicate that airline-capacity constraints will limit further traffic growth.”

The report said: “If labor shortages limit airlines' ability to increase capacity in response to demand, passenger traffic growth will be constrained during the peak summer travel months."

Ellen Volpe, owner of a Garden City-based travel agency, recommended buying travel insurance for unexpected problems and keep a flexible mindset.

“There are things that we can’t control,” Volpe said. “There's no amount of planning that any agent does that can plan for a flight being totally canceled.”

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