United Airlines CEO blasts FAA call to cancel, delay flights in bad weather

Travelers aren’t the only ones frustrated by a spate of flight cancellations that have snarled travel plans across the Northeast. An airline manager also grumbles about the disruptions.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby blasted the Federal Aviation Agency’s decision to cancel thousands of flights last weekend because of severe weather. The cancellations and delays have affected more than 150,000 United Airlines customers, according to the company.

In an email to employees sent Monday, Kirby said the FAA “failed” United Airlines by ordering flight cancellations and delays at Newark Liberty International Airport amid difficult weather conditions that they “have historically been able to handle.”[ads1];

“I am … frustrated that the FAA truly failed us this weekend,” Kirby said in the email. “As you know, the weather we saw in EWR is something that the FAA has historically been able to handle without serious impact on our operations and customers.”

In response to Kirby’s criticism, the FAA said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch, “We will always work with anyone who is seriously willing to join us in solving a problem.”

More than 715 flights in and out of the United States were canceled on Tuesday, data from flight tracker FlightAware shows. Of those flights, more than 270 flew to or from Newark Liberty International Airport, which is United Airlines’ hub in the New York area.

The FAA oversees air traffic in the United States, and gives it influence over flight times. But in recent months, the agency has struggled to carry out their duties due to staff shortages.

However, some travelers at Newark airport took to social media to report delays — and many blamed United Airlines, not the FAA, saying the airline didn’t have enough staff to help stranded customers. United did not immediately return a request for comment.

“Come on @UnitedAirlines, 9 hours and counting in line for customer service at Newark airport after canceling my flight just before 22.00 yesterday. I think you need more staff to help sort the backlog…” one traveler wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Another traveler tweeted: “No hotel, no compensation, no apologies; just asked to join a +/-1000 person line to get a voucher or other fake booking for the next flight and wait for it to be canceled as well !?”

Lack of air traffic controllers

In March, the FAA issued a notice warning that a shortage of air traffic controllers at the New York facility could disrupt summer travel. According to that report, the agency had reached just 54% of its staffing goal for certified professional inspectors at that location—well below the national average. Workers at the facility provide air traffic services for John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, according to the FAA.

Kirby told his staff that he will work with the FAA and the Department of Transportation to prevent a similar situation from disrupting travel this summer, according to the email. He stressed, however, that the responsibility to remedy the FAA’s problems rests with the agency itself.

“It is not the current FAA leadership’s fault that they are in this severely understaffed position — it has been building for a long time before they were in charge,” Kirby wrote. “But the onus is now on them to lead and take action to minimize the impact.”

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