US airlines set for worst year ever with 1M flights delayed already

  • More than one million flights were delayed from January to August, the fastest that the milestone has ever been reached, according to official departure data
  • 22.33 percent of departures in 2023 have been delayed by 15 minutes or more
  • The dismal figures come amid a series of other controversies this year, including mass cancelations, a shortage of pilots and a string of worrying near misses

US airlines are on course for one of the worst ever years for flight delays, according to official data reviewed by

Airlines racked up a million delayed departures in record time in 2023 and nearly a quarter of flights so far this year have taken off late, the figures reveal.

The dismal data adds to a string of issues to blight the aviation industry this year, including mass cancelations, chronic staff shortages, a series of near-misses and the use of fake jet engine parts in dozens of large commercial aircraft.

The findings will also fuel fears of travel chaos through the busy Thanksgiving period and holiday season, when tens of millions of Americans will fly around the country to celebrate with loved ones. A recent survey found half of Americans plan to book a flight or hotel this holiday, putting further strain on the struggling industry. reviewed flight departure data from the Bureau of Transport Statistics, which tracks the country’s leading carries. The bureau defines a delayed departure as one which leaves the gate 15 minutes or more after its scheduled time.

22.33 percent of departures were delayed between January and August. More than one million flight departures were delayed across the period, the fastest that the milestone has been hit

From January to August this year, the period for which the most up-to-date data is available, 22.33 percent of flights were delayed. The total number of delayed departures was 1,015,057.

The previous annual record was 2007, when 21.1 percent of flights were delayed, putting 2023 well on track to set a new record.

The Bureau of Transport Statistics data includes annual breakdowns for every year from 1988 to the present day.

The eight-months timespan that it took to hit one million delays is also believed to be the shortest on record. The previous record was in 2007, when it took until September to pass one million delayed departures.

Data for delayed arrivals paints a similarly bleak picture. Between January and August 2023, 22.52 percent of arrivals were late by 15 minutes or more, the highest proportion for that period since at least 2014.

In 2007, the worst year for delayed arrivals, 24.20 percent of flights were delayed across the whole year.

Mass delays and cancelations this summer contributed to the dismal figures. Pictured: Travelers wait on the floor of a departure area in LaGuardia Airport on June 27, 2023

Separate data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics also reveals that as delays have risen, air ticket prices have crept above their pre-covid highs after a dip during the pandemic. Passengers now face paying more for a worse service.

The average price of a domestic fare was $391.79 in the second quarter of 2023, compared with $357.07 for the same period in 2019.

The dire delays statistics comes after a summer of chaos and misery and American airports due to a chronic staffing shortages post-COVID and extreme weather events.

The Fourth of July holiday was blighted by thousands of cancellations. United Airlines was singled out for criticism after its passengers suffered most and many were left stranded in airports.

Weeks earlier, storms around the east coast and Midwest also caused huge disruption and nearly 10,000 flights were canceled in a single week.

Airlines started 2023 with a shortage of around 17,000 pilots, while the Federal Aviation Authority had a shortage of 3,000 air traffic controllers. There was also a shortage of thousands of mechanics.

Travelers await their bags amid rows of unclaimed luggage at the United Airlines baggage claim area at Los Angeles International Airport on June 29, 2023 in Los Angeles, California

The industry typically trains about 1,500 to 1,800 new pilots each year. Training a pilot can also take two years or longer, and cost more than $100,000. 

The dire shortage of staff this year came about in part because of mass layoffs during COVID, which were not reversed quickly enough as the sector rebounded when lockdowns were lifted.

After the chaos this summer, Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg opened a federal investigation into airlines for what he termed ‘unrealistic scheduling’, or listing more flights than carriers can be safely operated.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, which sets safety guidelines for the industry, have also taken action after a concerning series of near misses at airports and in the skies this year. 

There was also widespread disbelief in September when it emerged dozens of aircraft used by the country's leading carriers have been fitted with uncertified jet engine parts

Bosses from the agency are holding ‘runway safety meetings’ with air traffic controllers at the nation’s most problematic airports after a spate that included 46 close calls in January alone.

In the most serious incidents, aircraft carrying hundreds of passengers have come just within feet of a collision that could have caused a massive loss of life.

And there was also widespread disbelief among industry insiders and the public in September when it emerged dozens of aircraft used by the country’s leading carriers have been fitted with uncertified jet engine parts.

A UK-based supplier, AOG Technics, allegedly sold parts with forged safety paperwork to jet engine maintenance firms and these parts ended up in at least 126 commercial aircraft.

Leading American airlines including Delta and United have been forced to ground planes that were affected by the scandal and a worldwide investigation is underway to identify other aircraft fitted with the suspicious parts. Aircraft in Europe, Australia and China have also been affected.


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