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The airline welcomed more than 2,200 pilots in 2023 but claimed unusual hiring patterns due to the pandemic.

ITA Airways To Begin Rome-Jeddah Flights In August

The Italian carrier will increase its presence in the Middle East.

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Travelers endure another day of airport agony. One airline has by far the most cancellations

Travelers from Hong Kong wait for travel options after their vacation flight to Cancun, Mexico, was suddenly cancelled disrupting their planned vacation at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International airport, Wednesday June 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The Vargas family sits at the airport after their flight to Cancun, Mexico, was cancelled at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International airport, on Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Travelers wait at the departure area check-in at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International airport, Wednesday June 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Travelers wait in line at the departure area check-in at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, Wednesday June 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Travelers sit on the ground at the departure area at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, Wednesday June 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Travelers wait in line at the departure area check-in at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International airport, Wednesday June 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Travelers line up at the departure area check-in at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International airport, Wednesday June 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Travelers use their electronic devices while lying on the floor of the departures area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A airline agents helps a travelers in the departures area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Jet Blue agents help a traveler, right, in the departures area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A monitor displays in the departures area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport displays flight statuses, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

An airline employee, right, helps a traveler find her suitcase amongst the unclaimed luggage in the arrivals area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A traveler looks for his suitcase amongst the unclaimed luggage in the arrivals area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Travelers line up at the Southwest Airline ticket counter in the departures area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A traveler is seen leaving the baggage claim area in Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Storm clouds loom over airplane on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

An airplane lands, top, as other line up for takeoff, center, and others are parked at the gate of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Travelers use their electronic devices while sitting on the floor of the departures area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in New York. Travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airports on Tuesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A woman views her phone near a flight board at Boston Logan International Airport, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Boston. Travelers are getting hit with delays at U.S. airports again early Wednesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A man views a flight board at Boston Logan International Airport, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Boston. Travelers are getting hit with delays at U.S. airports again early Wednesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A traveler walks through a terminal at Boston Logan International Airport, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Boston. Travelers are getting hit with delays at U.S. airports again early Wednesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Travelers check in at an automated counter at Logan International Airport, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Boston. Travelers are getting hit with delays at U.S. airports again early Wednesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Travelers check in at the Spirit Airline ticket counters at Terminal B in Newark International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, June 28, 2023. Airline passengers face delays following flight cancellations due to storms in the region. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

A screen displaying departure times and delayed flight information for Terminal C in Newark International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, June 28, 2023. Airline passengers face delays following flight cancellations due to storms in the region. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

A delayed traveler sleeps on the floor near the United Airlines ticket desk at Terminal C in Newark International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, June 28, 2023. Airline passengers face delays following flight cancellations due to storms in the region. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Delayed travelers wait in line to check in at the United Airlines ticket desk at Terminal C in Newark International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, June 28, 2023. Airline passengers face delays following flight cancellations due to storms in the region. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Delayed travelers wait to check in at the United Airlines ticket desk at Terminal C in Newark International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, June 28, 2023. Travelers are getting hit with delays at U.S. airports again Wednesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which is shaping up as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Passenger jets, top and center, taxi on the tarmac past another jet, below, at Boston Logan International Airport, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Boston. Travelers are getting hit with delays at U.S. airports again early Wednesday, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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DALLAS (AP) — Air travelers endured another wave of flight disruptions Thursday despite better weather along much of the East Coast, while United Airlines continued to account for the majority of canceled flights nationwide.

United vowed to get back on track over the July 4 holiday weekend, when the number of air travelers could set a pandemic-era record.

Hundreds of thousands of people have had travel plans thrown in the air after a wave of storms raked the Northeast over the past few days and frustrations are running high.

Airports in Chicago, Denver and Newark, New Jersey — all hubs for United — were seeing the most delays on Thursday, according to FlightAware.

By early evening on the East Coast, United had canceled more than 400 flights, the bulk of the 600-plus cancellations toted up by FlightAware. The Chicago carrier was poised to lead all U.S. airlines in cancellations for a sixth straight day.

United CEO Scott Kirby has blamed the airline’s struggles in Newark on a shortage of air traffic controllers in the New York City area. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pushed back against the criticism while conceding that a key Federal Aviation Administration facility in New York is severely understaffed.

“United Airlines has some internal issues they need to work through. They have really been struggling this week, even relative to other U.S. airlines,” Buttigieg told CNN. “But where we do agree is that there need to be more resources for air traffic control.”

The FAA plans to hire 3,300 controllers over two years, but they won’t be ready to help this summer, much less this weekend.

The leader of United’s union pilots — who are locked in difficult contract negotiations — blamed management for the disruptions, saying the company failed to upgrade a crew-scheduling system.

“While Scott Kirby attempts to deflect blame on the FAA, weather and everything in between, further flight delays are a direct result of poor planning by United Airlines executives,” Garth Thompson said.

United is offering triple pay to flight attendants who are scheduled off this weekend but agree to pick up extra flights, according to their union. The Association of Flight Attendants also said crews calling in for assignments have been put on hold for three hours or longer.

FILE - The list of Southwest Airlines flights cancelled grows at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Dec. 29, 2022. Thousands of air travelers faced flight cancellations and delays this weekend as thunderstorms traveled across the U.S. East Coast and Midwest. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

“The airline actually ‘lost’ crews in the system for days on end because there was such a significant breakdown in running the operation,” said Ken Diaz, president of the flight attendants’ group at United. He said the company scheduled summer flights “to the max” even knowing about air traffic control limits in the Northeast.

United said it was getting a handle on its problems.

“We’re seeing continued meaningful improvement today after an overnight effort to further repair schedules and match separated crews with aircraft,” the airline said in a midday statement. “As the recovery progresses, delays and cancellations will continue to decline as we head into what we expect to be a very busy holiday weekend.”

Because planes are packed for the summer, it is hard for airlines to rebook customers when flights are canceled – there aren’t many empty seats.

Ariana Duran of Orlando, Florida, said JetBlue rebooked her for seven days later when her flight home from Newark was canceled this week. So she got creative.

Her boyfriend spotted a $1,200 seat on another airline, but it was gone before they could buy it. She looked into Amtrak. Duran, who does marketing for an insurance company, wound up paying about $640 for a one-way ticket to Orlando — with a stop in the Florida Keys — on United Express and Silver Airways.

Duran didn’t care when they told her it would be a very small plane.

“Just put me on a boat at this point,” she said.

Sonia Hendrix, who runs a public-relations firm in New York, took four days to get home from a business trip to Colorado. She was stranded one night in Atlanta and two in Orlando, when connecting flights were canceled. She woke up some mornings not knowing where she was.

Hendrix said a Delta agent threatened to cancel her reservation when she complained about being offered only a $50 voucher for her trip troubles. On the other hand, her pilot, “Captain Dan,” waited in the airport and helped passengers after the flight was canceled.

“This is not all Delta’s fault. Their pilots and flight crews were working very hard,” she said. “I blame the FAA. I blame Buttigieg for sitting on his hands” and not staffing up air traffic control centers sooner.

Hendrix said she lost working time and spent $700 out of pocket. She is so worried it could happen again that she is reconsidering a business trip next month to Los Angeles.

The FAA said Thursday would be the busiest day of the holiday stretch by number of flights. The Transportation Security Administration said it expected to screen the most travelers on Friday — a predicted 2.82 million people.

Scattered showers and thunderstorms may arrive later Thursday in the Northeast, and storms were also forecast farther south along the East Coast through Saturday. The West is under threat of unstable weather for the next several days.

Along with big crowds and storms, a technology issue could add to travelers’ difficulties. Federal officials say some airline planes may be unable to fly in bad weather starting Saturday because of possible interference from new 5G wireless service.

American, United, Southwest, Alaska and Frontier say all their planes have been retrofitted with new radio altimeters — those are devices that measure the plane’s height above the ground — and they do not expect disruptions due to 5G service.

However, Delta Air Lines has about 190 planes in its fleet of more than 900 that have not been updated because it can’t get enough altimeters from its supplier. Delta says it will schedule those planes to avoid landing in poor visibility while it works to upgrade them through the summer.

The issue affects several types of single-aisle planes that Delta uses on routes within the United States, including all its Airbus A220s and most of its Airbus A319 and A320 jets.

Smaller airlines that operate regional flights could also be affected by the radio interference issue, as could flights operated to the United States by foreign carriers.

By early evening in the East, about 5,300 flights had been delayed, down from an average of 8,000 a day over the first three days of the week.

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Air travel is getting worse. Here are 6 tips to make it less of a headache.

By Megan Cerullo

June 22, 2022 / 8:20 AM EDT / MoneyWatch

Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed over the Father's Day weekend , with the chaos at airports in the U.S. and abroad pointing to a summer of discontent for travelers. Airlines, tricky to operate under the best of conditions, are now also grappling with severe personnel shortages just as passengers return in droves as the pandemic eases. 

"We're used to navigating around weather delays in the summer, but having this huge travel resurgence combined with weather and staffing issues at airports and airlines has made it a much more complicated landscape," said Misty Belles, a travel expert and spokesperson for Virtuoso, a global network of travel advisers specializing in luxury experiences.

  • Should you get travel insurance for your next trip?

So what can you do to minimize the frustrations? Travel pros recommend some tricks of the trade to make air travel less of a headache this summer. 

Book through the airline

Booking your ticket directly through an airline can make for more effective customer service and faster rebooking if necessary. By contrast, airlines tend to be less helpful when your travel arrangements are made through online aggregators such as Expedia or Priceline.

"There has never been a more important time to book directly with the airline. When you book through a third party and you have to rebook, the airline says, 'Go to them,'" Willis Orlando, travel expert at Scott's Cheap Flights, told CBS MoneyWatch. "They also have less robust customer service operations than an airline does."

Even if it can seem like takes forever to connect with an airline customer service representative, once you're in touch they can usually resolve problems.

"With online travel sites, there is an extra layer of communication and policies, and you're not always owed the same as what you are if you booked through the airline," Orlando added. 

Catch the first flight of the day

Another rule of thumb is to always book the first departing flight of the day for a better chance of it taking off on-time, even if it's $50 or $100 more expensive than other fares.

"Take the first morning flight out," Belles of Virtuoso said. "It's painful getting up at 4 a.m., but those flights are less likely to get bumped as the day goes on and things get backed up." 

Plus, bad weather typically disrupt operations later in the day, she added.

For extra assurance, purchase a second, fully-refundable ticket for a flight scheduled two to three hours later. If your first flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, call the airline and request a full refund — then hop on the second flight.

When arranging a backup flight, book through a different carrier and try to use airline miles or points, which go right back into your travel bank if you end up cancelling the flight.   

"Booking tickets with airline miles gives you the benefit of a refundable ticket without paying for one. You can get your miles credited back to your account," said Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of Indagare Travel, a luxury travel planning company. 

On a recent trip, Bradley flew from New York to Venice, Italy, and then drove an hour and a half to Slovenia, as opposed to connecting through Paris or Amsterdam and flying to a regional airport located closer to her final destination. And she's glad she did. 

"Other people went through Paris or Amsterdam and connected and had massive lines, huge issues with bags and worries about flights being cancelled," she said. "They would have been much better off going to a major airport a little further away and doing that drive."

Of course, direct flights are more expensive than routes with connections, but they reduce the odds of something going wrong that mars your long-awaited vacation.  

"Avoid connections. If there are two or three legs, you're doubling or tripling your chances of running into a problem," said James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel, a network of 75,000 independent travel advisers. "The more you can connect the lower the price, so it's not an option for everyone."

If you must use connecting flights, don't even think about a 45 minute layover. Give yourself at least two hours, or longer.

Upgrade to be first in line

Once you've booked your flight, download your airline's mobile app and enable text messages to receive alerts related to your flight. Also join the airline's frequent-flier program. 

"All of those things will help you get information quicker," Ferrara said. 

Consider upgrading to a premium seat if one is available. Indeed, the better your standing with the airline, the more priority you'll be given when it comes to rebooking a canceled or significantly delayed flight. 

"When seats are overbooked or flights are canceled, they award seats on new planes based upon your status on that first plane. First class, business class and passengers with higher mileage levels will be rebooked first. You'll get a seat before the person at the back of the plane does," Bradley said. 

If you work with a travel adviser, they will take care of the rebooking process for you and advocate on your behalf. And it won't cost you anything, as their fees are paid by airlines and hotels. 

Travel on a Wednesday

If you're traveling for an event like a wedding or sports tournament, if possible plan on arriving a couple of days in advance. Building a two to three day cushion leaves room for canceled flights or other travel mishaps without it causing you to miss the main event. 

"Don't count on flying and arriving the same day," Bradley said. "Build in a buffer and you'll get there." 

Take an extra day off of work and fly on a weekday if you can. Also avoid flying between Friday and Monday, experts say. 

"The most important thing right now is not to fly on weekends. This is what weekends are going to look like at least through the summer," Ferrara said, referring to the recent chaos at airports. 

Only bring carry-on

If possible, avoid checking luggage, which avoids long bag drop lines at airports. Bradley urges her clients to either carry on or ship. In addition, if your flight is canceled and you have your bag with you, you'll be more nimble. 

"You can jump on a different flight, whereas if your bag is in the belly of plane, it takes longer to maneuver and get yourself on a different flight," Bradley said. "I am huge proponent of never checking your bag."

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Megan Cerullo is a New York-based reporter for CBS MoneyWatch covering small business, workplace, health care, consumer spending and personal finance topics. She regularly appears on CBS News streaming to discuss her reporting.

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Airlines damaged thousands of mobility aids this year: Here's how 30+ flyers were affected

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“I fully expect my wheelchair to keep getting damaged, and it’s a fairly significant source of stress for me when I fly,” Heather Bennett told USA TODAY. Bennett is one of thousands of wheelchair users whose devices were damaged while flying in 2023 and one of more than 30 disabled travelers who shared their personal stories of such damage with USA TODAY this year.

According to the Department of Transportation, there were 8,637 reported mobility device damage incidents as of September, about 1.4% of the total number transported. Full-year data for 2023 is expected in early 2024. For comparison, by the end of September 2022, airlines had reported 8,348 incidents of mobility device damage to the DOT. While the numbers for 2023 are slightly higher so far, airlines also carried almost 75,000 more mobility devices in 2023 compared to the previous year.

Even so, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told USA TODAY those numbers need to be brought way down.

“Any number greater than zero is not an acceptable number,” he said. “This not only affects your trip, it affects your life.” 

Bennett agreed, saying not a lot of people realize, “it’s not just the damage to the chair, it’s the time in my life that I have to take to fix it that ended up being costly.”

Buttigieg and accessibility advocates want airlines to do better and are optimistic about regulatory changes being considered for 2024 that could help bring some improvement. 

Here's what we learned throughout 2023 and what may be in the hopper for the new year and beyond:

What travelers told us in 2023

Nearly everyone who shared their story with USA TODAY at some point said some version of the phrase “breaking my wheelchair is like breaking my legs.”

Every traveler shared frustrations that airline employees seemed largely unconcerned with how to handle mobility devices, adding that airlines needed to boost employee training.

Stephanie Groce, whose wheelchair was destroyed on an American Airlines flight just days before her wedding in July, confirmed to USA TODAY it still hasn’t been fixed.

“I’m hoping for a Christmas miracle, that it gets fixed by the end of the year. That would be really nice, but we’re kind of running out of days,” she said. “Even with an expedited case, we’re going on five months and counting in order to get me made whole and to get that wheelchair repaired.”

Andrew Bogdanov, a professional tennis player whose wheelchair was damaged multiple times in transit to tournaments, said he’s happy it was replaced fairly quickly but added that wheelchair damage and other problems with accessibility are far too common in air travel.

“It’s inconsistent with travel, and that’s a completely different issue than with my equipment and them taking care of that,” he said. From airport to airport or even flight to flight, disabled travelers are never sure what to expect and if their medically necessary equipment will arrive in working condition. Bogdanov said a set of national standards for handling mobility equipment could help travelers and aviation employees alike be better prepared for every trip.

Alan T. Brown, director of new partner engagement at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, said his wheelchair was damaged on two recent trips and agreed that better training is key to improving accessibility in air travel.

“These guys that are handling luggage, they just want to get the plane out of there moving, they don’t really care,” he said. “There’s got to be somebody that can go down there to show them how to do it, and if you’re not sure, ask.” 

When Brown, who is a quadriplegic and has been using a wheelchair for 36 years, spoke to USA TODAY, he was waiting for a technician to come to evaluate his power for repair or replacement. 

“It’s the mental aggravation of the whole thing. I travel for work. I know I have to get on planes again. You’re already thinking about the future,” he said. “I should be able to hop on a plane any time I want.” 

Changes that airlines and regulators introduced in 2023

Buttigieg said he’s excited about projects around the country aimed at improving accessibility in airport terminals and is optimistic about regulatory updates that were introduced this year.

“The existing protection and enforcement around damage to wheelchairs isn’t up to the magnitude of the problem,” he said. “We’ve launched the rulemaking to start ensuring safe accommodations for air travelers using wheelchairs that haven’t happened before.” 

Buttigieg also pointed out that a new rule was finalized that will eventually require accessible lavatories on most planes. 

“It will take a while to implement, but it will be worth it,” he said.

Many airlines also announced improvements to accessibility in 2023, including Southwest announcing a Customer Accessibility Advisory Committee in October, joining other airlines that already had such bodies established.

United Airlines announced it would install Braille placards on its aircraft and publish cargo hold door dimensions for all its planes online.

“Both independently and through our recent collaboration with the Department of Transportation, we are developing and delivering innovative solutions that improve accessibility and address some of the travel challenges encountered by customers who use wheelchairs,” United spokesperson Charles Hobart said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Embedding accessibility into every decision will propel us forward and is the right thing to do.”

American Airlines also announced several accessibility improvements this year, including a special wheelchair/scooter bag tag to help improve mobility device tracking through its system and alert ground crews to the specific handling needs of each device.

“We’ve placed a particular focus on giving our team members the tools and resources they need to properly handle and track customers’ mobility aids,” American Airlines spokesperson Amy Lawrence said in a statement. “We recognize how important it is to support the independence of customers with disabilities as they travel and will continue to work hard to ensure a smooth experience for all of our customers.”

Delta Flight Products, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, demonstrated a concept for in-cabin securement for power chairs, which many advocates praised throughout the year. Although Delta has fully funded the project and continues to support Delta Flight Products as it seeks regulatory approval by the FAA, the company has not yet committed to putting the seats on board if they’re approved.

“While we have long engaged in a variety of initiatives to increase air travel accessibility for customers with disabilities, our work in this important space is always evolving. We will continue to invest in technology and innovation to support our customers with disabilities, and will keep a keen eye on the progress of this first-of-its-kind airplane seat,” a Delta spokesperson told USA TODAY in a statement.

Michele Erwin, founder and president of All Wheels Up, an advocacy group that focuses on in-cabin wheelchair securement, said it was exciting to see the concept receive so much attention. Nevertheless, she warned it’s going to take a long time before it’s available to travelers because the Federal Aviation Administration still has to approve the space product, as well as whatever securement mechanism is ultimately used with it.

“It’s a very, very complex conversation,” Erwin said. “It’s not happening in two years.” 

What disabled travelers can expect in 2024

Major structural improvements to accessibility on airplanes are unlikely in the new year, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. 

Buttigieg emphasized that new regulations are being considered, including a private right to action, which would allow disabled travelers to sue airlines that damage their devices for the first time.

“I think airlines would do a much better job and be more diligent if they faced a different economic incentive,” he said.

Erwin also noted that a lot is going on behind the scenes to help move accessibility in air travel along.

“I believe that the industry is putting their money where their mouth is. Entire departments are being created internally at some of these organizations to work on accessibility,” she said. “While it’s slow…the good news is work is being done and traction is starting to happen.” 

What advocates hope to see in the future

For most advocates, the key first step to improvement is better training for airline employees who handle mobility devices and interact with disabled passengers. Here’s some of what different organizations are pushing for as we head into 2024: 

Better training and onboard accessibility

“The people that are handling our bodies and our lives are people that don’t know how to do it … If you don’t strap us the way you’re supposed to strap us, if you don’t carry us the way you’re supposed to carry us, we can fall.” – Vincenzo Piscopo, president of the United Spinal Association

“Going to the bathroom is just a basic human right,” Piscopo added. “The fact that that has not been a priority for the airline industry is the biggest example of ableism in the airline industry.” 

“For us, what that looks like is that people who are going to be assisting you, prior to them stepping out to do the work, under the pressures of time to load an aircraft, that they receive training from someone who is familiar with how the aisle chair works, that they have some understanding of the needs of passengers with disabilities who need to use an aisle chair … This should happen in an environment where people can be trained and learn in a way that’s safe.” – Heather Ansley, chief policy officer at Paralyzed Veterans of America

Less focus on the financial barriers and more on disabled dignity

“We focus way too much on the cost and the difficulty of making these changes … We need to really underscore the (positive) financial and economic impact that accessible business and leisure travel would mean.” – Kendra Davenport, president of Easterseals

The advocates are all optimistic that the FAA reauthorization bill will be passed by Congress in the new year, and both the House and Senate versions of the bill contain sections that aim to make air travel more accessible. 

Timeline of incidents we reported on in 2023

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at [email protected]

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Spirit Airlines put an unaccompanied child on the wrong plane

Spirit Airlines has apologized after it mistakenly put an unaccompanied child on the wrong flight during the holiday season travel rush.

The child was supposed to fly from Philadelphia International Airport to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers on Thursday. But the minor was “incorrectly boarded” on a flight to Orlando, according to the airline.

“The child was always under the care and supervision of a Spirit Team Member, and as soon as we discovered the error, we took immediate steps to communicate with the family and reconnect them,” Spirit said in a statement Saturday.

A Spirit Airlines 2005 Airbus A319-132 on the runway at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, on Oct. 24, 2021.

“We take the safety and responsibility of transporting all of our Guests seriously and are conducting an internal investigation,” the airline added. “We apologize to the family for this experience.”

Spirit did not provide any information about the child or explain how the mistake happened. WINK-TV, a television station in Fort Myers, identified the child as a 6-year-old first-time flyer who was supposed to visit his grandmother.

“I ran inside the plane to the flight attendant and I asked her, ‘Where’s my grandson? He was handed over to you at Philadelphia?’ She said, ‘No, I had no kids with me,’” Maria Ramos, the boy’s grandma, told WINK-TV .

Fortunately, Ramos’ grandchild called her and said he had landed — 160 miles away. She told WINK-TV that she wants answers.

“I want them to call me [and] let me know how my grandson ended up in Orlando,” Ramos said. “How did that happen? Did they get him off the plane? The flight attendant — after mom handed him with paperwork — did she let him go by himself? He jumped in the wrong plane by himself?”

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Daniel Arkin is a national reporter at NBC News.

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  8. How air travel changed in 2021

    How air travel changed in 2021 By Maureen O'Hare, CNN 6 minute read Published 4:16 AM EST, Fri December 31, 2021 Link Copied! Video Ad Feedback Winter weather, sick crews cancel thousands of...

  9. Christmas travel live updates: Latest news on flight delays, traffic

    USA TODAY 0:00 0:00 The holidays are here and they brought some serious weather with them, threatening many people's travel plans. Around 115.2 million Americans are zipping up their suitcases to...

  10. Skift: Travel News, Airline News and Hotel News

    The trusted source for breaking travel news and travel research covering airlines, hotels, tourism, startups, and business travel.

  11. Flight delays, cancellations could continue for a decade amid airline

    July 25, 2023 / 10:54 AM EDT / CBS News Flight delays and cancellations that have plagued travelers in recent months have prompted a federal investigation into what's causing the chaos. And the...

  12. Air Travel News & Advice

    Air Travel News & Advice | Condé Nast Traveler SUBSCRIBE AND GET 1 YEAR FOR $21.99 $5 Getty Air Travel In 2022, it's time to get excited about air travel once again. After a couple of years...

  13. Southwest Airlines cancels hundreds of flights, disrupting ...

    Airlines canceled just 1.2% of U.S. flights so far this year as of December 22, the lowest in five years. Nearly 3 million passengers were expected to pass through domestic airports during the ...

  14. Travel Weekly aviation news and analysis: Travel Weekly

    Aviation News. Norse Atlantic adds Athens-New York route The low-cost carrier will fly the route five times per week from May 30 through Oct. 26. Busy holiday travel season kicks off with few ...

  15. Passengers hoped this 'time traveling' flight would give them two New

    Passengers on a United Airlines flight hoping to travel back in time for New Year's got off to an unfortunate start in 2024. Flight UA200 was originally scheduled to depart Guam at 7:35 a.m. on ...

  16. Travel News

    Latest videos See how many animals customs found in a woman's baggage in India Man storms cockpit on American Airlines flight, breaks controls Spencer Glacier in Alaska is now just a whistle stop...

  17. Airlines are managing the holiday travel rush, with a hiccup from

    From Dec. 21 through Christmas Day, U.S. airlines canceled a total of 861 flights, or 0.8% of their schedule, according to FlightAware. Photo Credit: mdbildes/Shutterstock Buoyed by mostly benign ...

  18. Flights in summer 2021: What to know about travel mask mandate, more

    USA TODAY 0:00 0:56 A Southwest Airlines flight attendant delivered good news to passengers boarding the Providence, Rhode Island, to Chicago flight in mid-May. "We're not going to be...

  19. FAA outage updates: 10,000+ flights delayed, canceled

    A computer glitch at the Federal Aviation Administration delayed airline traffic across much of the nation early Wednesday, and the agency said it was investigating what caused the issue as...

  20. Travelers endure another day of airport agony. One airline has by far

    "The airline actually 'lost' crews in the system for days on end because there was such a significant breakdown in running the operation," said Ken Diaz, president of the flight attendants' group at United. He said the company scheduled summer flights "to the max" even knowing about air traffic control limits in the Northeast.

  21. Back-to-back travel meltdowns put renewed focus on aviation tech

    For part of the morning, the FAA put a pause on departures nationwide for the first time since 9/11. The agency "determined that a data file was damaged by personnel who failed to follow ...

  22. Air travel is getting worse. Here are 6 tips to make it less of a

    Building a two to three day cushion leaves room for canceled flights or other travel mishaps without it causing you to miss the main event. "Don't count on flying and arriving the same day ...

  23. Travel News: Destinations, Airlines, Travel Deals & More

    Find the latest travel news, videos, and photos on NBCNews.com. Read stories covering tips on travel deals, airfare prices, top stories & more.

  24. Travelers, advocates say airlines can do better for disabled flyers

    Full-year data for 2023 is expected in early 2024. For comparison, by the end of September 2022, airlines had reported 8,348 incidents of mobility device damage to the DOT. While the numbers for...

  25. FlightGlobal

    Dubai 2021 EDGE: A new global force in aerospace and defence NBAA 2021 World Airline Rankings 2021 IATA AGM 2021 Top 100 aerospace companies DSEI 2021 MAKS 2021 Defending across the domains...

  26. Spirit Airlines put an unaccompanied child on the wrong plane

    Dec. 24, 2023, 7:22 AM PST. By Cristian Santana and Daniel Arkin. Spirit Airlines has apologized after it mistakenly put an unaccompanied child on the wrong flight during the holiday season travel ...

  27. 8 New Airlines, Including Really Cool Airlines, to Launch in Thailand

    January 1, 2024 at 9:40 PM PST. Listen. 1:33. Eight new Thai airlines are set to start operations as the tourism-reliant nation expects a sustained recovery in leisure travel to draw about 35 ...