Like most carriers, American Airlines operated smoothly over Memorial Day weekend, declaring afterwards that it had “delivered our best-ever Memorial Day,” with record passenger counts, no mainline cancellations and industry-leading on-time departure levels. But that was then.
The heaviest summer travel weekend begins Thursday and the walk-up is not going well.
At Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Wednesday, Delta Flight 1092 from Atlanta landed with its nose gear up and, effectively, without landing gear at 8:58 a.m. No one was injured, but the runway was temporarily closed. By 1 p.m. the airport had 14 cancellations and 129 delayed flights, according to Flight Aware.
As the Boeing 717 approached CLT, pilots received a “nose gear unsafe” indication, Delta said in a prepared statement. The crew initiated a missed approach procedure to further investigate the indication. They flew by the control tower to allow controllers to visually inspect the plane. That observation indicated that the nose landing gear doors were open, but the nose gear itself remained in the up position.
Pilots landed on the runway with nose gear up, Delta said. On board were 96 customers and five crew members. No one was injured.
The incident makes clear how easily flight operations can be disrupted by unanticipated events.
On Tuesday, weather delays, particularly in the New York area, as well as a shortage of air traffic controllers, created problems. The July 1st implementation of new 5G rules looms over the weekend. Already, social media is overflowing with stories of passengers stranded in airports, some unable to depart for days because many outgoing flights are booked full days in advance.
U.S. airlines cancelled 2,199 U.S. flights on Tuesday, according to FlightAware. American, with its limited presence at the New York airports, had 112 cancellations and 788 delays on Tuesday, generally fewer than peers.
This year, airlines and airports recognize the July 4th holiday weekend as extending for seven days, beginning Thursday June 29, and ending Wednesday July 5.
At Charlotte Douglas — which is American’s second largest hub with about 600 daily departures — airport, airline and federal officials were generally optimistic about the extended weekend, at least as far as airport controllables are concerned.
At Charlotte, “We hope to have the same success during the Fourth of July weekend,” as during the Memorial Day weekend, Ross Fortson, American managing director for customer care at Charlotte, told reporters at an airport media event on Tuesday.
The airport projects it will screen 229,900 passengers over the holiday, up 23% from 2019. Another 367,000 passengers will connect, the airport said. “Peoples’ confidence in the aviation system and the airlines has increased,” said Jerome Woodard, airport chief operating officer.
The busiest day in Charlotte airport screening history was Aug. 2, 2019, when participants in a Boy Scout jamboree in Mount Hope, West Virginia, overwhelmed the airport on their way home. That day, the TSA screened 41,175 passengers.
Airport officials say that number is likely safe, but Thursday and Friday of this week could produce more screenings than the second busiest day in Charlotte history, which all occurred this month. Totals ranged between 38,705 on June 15, the airport’s second busiest screening day, to 38,468 on June 16, the fourth busiest day.
Woodard said the biggest problem for the airport during busy periods is that “A lot of people come here thinking ‘I am going to A Concourse so I have to go to A Checkpoint.” He said he assigns airport staff to directs people to the fastest checkpoint, but it’s challenging to overcome human nature where “You’re so set in your ways, (you think) I’ve got to go to A.”
For American’s pilots, the focus on zero cancellations and D-zero departures (D-zero means departures with zero delay time) can create tension as they prepare to depart. “We are looking to ensure that operations run smoothly, but we don’t want to leave passengers staring at the airplane through the glass in the terminal,” said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 15,000 American pilots.
Tajer also stated the most obvious factor in the holiday weekend operations: weather can upset everything. With planes and schedules already tightly packed, “Every day in the summer is a test for the airline,” he said. “If mother nature shows up, there isn’t going to be much room for her.”