Every major airline flies through the Sunshine State daily, and some say more than a third of their flights cross into Florida’s airspace.
In recent weeks, military exercises restricted airspace for commercial flights trying to fly east and west. Then violent thunderstorms hindered an essential route over the Gulf. Short staffing at an air-traffic control center near Jacksonville added to the already limited traffic going north and south. Oh, and a space rocket prepared to launch over the Atlantic, which temporarily cut off routes to the east.
So, the state of Florida is something of an air space obstacle course, responsible for jamming up air space and causing travel problems across the rest of the country.
“It’s been a cluster and a half,” said Andrew Levy, chief executive of the startup Avelo Airlines, which has recently expanded to Florida. He noted that ongoing delays had become a regular headache, with planes waiting hours for a chance to take off during ground stops. The airline is frequently off schedule due to factors Mr. Levy said are beyond its control: “It’s created enormous problems for us.”
— Tim (@Krommsan) August 15, 2022
Spirit Airlines Inc. said it would like to fly to Florida more often but hasn’t been able to because of the air-traffic-control constraints. Flights from Florida to the continental U.S. account for about 40% of Spirit’s network, and would likely be closer to 50% if not for those constraints, said Matt Klein, the airline’s chief commercial officer.
The trouble in Florida is an extreme example of the breakdown of the aviation system, made worse by ongoing severe weather and staffing shortages, which have led to miserable travel experiences for customers.
Across the country, about one-fifth of daily flights on average were delayed in reaching their destinations in the first six months of 2022. According to the data firm FlightAware, most of the major hubs in Florida did far worse, including Miami, Orlando, and Palm Beach. Cancellation rates were also above the national average at the airports serving Tampa Bay, Fort Myers, and other hubs in Florida.
One of the reasons for these delays is a growing number of space launches that restrict airspace for passenger flights and military operations such as flight-training exercises. More people are also using their own private jets, and Florida’s only two air-traffic-control centers are second only to Atlanta’s in the number of flights they control.
Storms have also affected flight delays and cancellations across the state.
This past spring, there were massive weather-related delays in Florida. Airline executives say they are used to stormy skies in the Sunshine State, but the line of systems in early April was relentless, some of them lasting for hours.
Laura Kaplan, a former air traffic-control manager at Orlando, said storms disrupt Florida’s north-south flight patterns. Controllers must find alternative routes to keep planes moving, but they can only accommodate so many planes. This causes a domino effect, causing more delays and preventing other flights from taking off. “You lose productivity,” she said.
Transportation Department data shows airlines have been the most significant source of delays. But for Florida airports, delays were generated by other problems, including FAA staffing, heavy traffic, and weather. The FAA plans to hire more than 1,500 new air-traffic controllers across the United States starting Oct. 1 and is currently working to reduce a backlog of training caused by the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
“It’s been a cluster and a half.” Flying into Florida is a giant mess, and it’s one reason U.S. air travel across the country has been so tough on travelers. https://t.co/dBU0lJF3Un via @WSJ @WSJGraphics w/ @MicahMaidenberg @alyrose @yuriko_a_s pic.twitter.com/40OyHiLaLZ
— Emma Brown (@ebrown725) August 15, 2022