‘Snowball effect’: Travel woes continue with more cancellations at Charlotte Douglas

CHARLOTTE — Passengers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport were hit by another wave of frustrating cancellations and delays, which has become almost a weekly, if not daily, occurrence.

However, American Airlines is not blaming staff shortages this time. Airline officials are pointing to Monday’s quick bout of bad weather.

Wednesday morning, 68 flights had been canceled at Charlotte Douglas and another 55 were delayed, according to FlightAware’s travel tracker.

Of those cancellations, 64 were American Airlines flights.

A spokesperson for American Airlines said Monday that the cancellations were related to storms in Charlotte on Monday. The airline said it was still repositioning planes and crews on Tuesday, trying to get back on track.

Channel 9 pressed the airline for clarity on what has been causing such a turbulent summer for air travel.

The Eroh family was camped out at the arrival and departure board Tuesday searching on their devices for a way out.

“We got here two hours early to check in, and we found out the flight was already canceled,” said Brian Eroh.

He said American Airlines offered them a refund because there were no other options for a flight to their home in Appleton, Wisconsin.

“Trying to find a one-way car rental is almost impossible,” Eroh said. “I’m hoping for a train, but we’re having difficulty finding that.”

It’s an experience that’s repeated almost daily, in what has been a turbulent start to summer travel.

“I’m just trying to keep my cool here, and I can’t yell at the poor people behind the counter. It’s not their fault,” Eroh added.

“What has happened is COVID has put a real strain on the airlines in terms of training,” said Carl Gamble, a former airline captain who retired in 2003.

He was a pilot for Piedmont Airlines and then USAir for 29 years.

He said that, of course, cancellations and delays happened during that era too.

“We did but not to the extent that it is now,” Gamble said.

The latest bout with cancellations happened Monday following brief evening storms, which closed ramps and caused a ground stop for two hours at the airport. An American Airlines spokesman said 31 flights headed to Charlotte had to be diverted, which led to 39 cancellations Monday and another 36 on Tuesday.

The airline spent Tuesday repositioning aircraft and crews.

“One cancellation causes a snowball effect. Airplanes get out of place. Crews get out of place, and it just continues,” Gamble explained.

Gamble said he heard from other pilots that the crews are already working their maximum allowable time and yet, must do more.

“Calling pilots when they are scheduled days off, affects the situation,” Gamble said. “Not only the airlines, the FAA is understaffed,” Gamble added.

It’s a staffing situation he believes isn’t sustainable.

“There will have to be 30,000 pilots hired by 2026 due to the retiring pilots at the age of 65,” Gamble said.

(WATCH BELOW: ‘I was scared’: Passengers evacuated onto tarmac at Charlotte Douglas when cabin fills with smoke)

Here’s what to do if your flight or trip is impacted

A big question travelers have is what to do if their flight is canceled.

The Department of Transportation said if your flight is canceled or significantly changed, the airline can offer you an alternative. If you turn that down, the airline must promptly offer you a refund.

That’s what happened to the Eroh family. They said American Airlines offered them a refund since there were no other flight options.

Channel 9 also wants to remind travelers to check on their flight and airline several times before heading to the airport. Many airlines have their own app where people can check the status of their flight early.

(WATCH BELOW: Here’s what to do if your flight or trip is impacted)