Texas-based American Airlines will be canceling flights to Ithaca and Islip, New York, as well as Toledo, Ohio, in September, blaming a lack of pilots, according to local reports.
“In response to the regional pilot shortage affecting the airline industry, American Airlines has made the difficult decision to end service,” American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Koos told the Dallas Morning News.
“We’re extremely grateful for the care and service our team members provided to our customers in Islip, Ithaca and Toledo, and are working closely with them during this time.”
Service to those cities will end Sept. 7. American Airlines said it was reaching out to customers scheduled to fly to or from those cities after that date.
In Toledo, the permanently suspended service will have a particularly large impact, leaving fliers without many options. American Airlines is the only major carrier that flies into the city. Allegiant is the only other airline that flies into Toledo. The next closest airport is in Detroit, about 50 miles away.
The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority called American Airlines’ departure “incredibly disappointing,” in a statement to WTVG, but said it was working to add other flight options.
“Please note, this decision was made solely by the airline, primarily due to a shortage of regional pilots. Unfortunately, we understand this is a current continued trend in the aviation industry. The Port Authority continues to meet with various airline representatives multiple times a year in an effort to increase air service out of TOL,” the airport said in a statement.
Across the board, the industry is facing a pilot shortage caused by thousands of retirements and buyouts meant to save airlines money during the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel had dwindled. Post-pandemic travel picked up faster than expected airlines, leaving carriers to scramble to find people to fly planes.
The staffing shortages led to another chaotic weekend for travelers. During the Juneteenth holiday Sunday, 921 flights nationwide were cancelled. An additional 6,228 domestic flights were delayed.
The pilot drought impacted regional carriers, like American Eagle, the most. Those pilots are often recruited to work at bigger airlines where pay, benefits and schedules are better.
The pilot shortage is only expected to get worse, according to aviation consulting firm Oliver Wyman. By the end of this year, 19,000 pilots will be needed globally, the firm told the Dallas Morning News. By 2029, 60,000 pilots will be needed to keep up with travel demand, as baby boomer pilots who earned their wings in the military are forced to retire at 65.