Add your tropical dream vacation/work trip/family wedding to the list of lingering Covid consequences.

If you’re like me, every time you head to the airport these days, you brace for your flight to be delayed or cancelled. It’s not just in our heads. If it seems that air travel has gotten less reliable since the the pandemic hit, that’s because it has.

Reuters reported in August 2022 that “flight cancellations and delays by US airlines in the first seven months of the year have surpassed the comparable 2019 period.” Many of these disruptions were weather-related, but a...

Add your tropical dream vacation/work trip/family wedding to the list of lingering Covid consequences.

If you’re like me, every time you head to the airport these days, you brace for your flight to be delayed or cancelled. It’s not just in our heads. If it seems that air travel has gotten less reliable since the the pandemic hit, that’s because it has.

Reuters reported in August 2022 that “flight cancellations and delays by US airlines in the first seven months of the year have surpassed the comparable 2019 period.” Many of these disruptions were weather-related, but a pilot I spoke to emphasized ongoing airline staffing shortages as the biggest headache at the airport.

He told me that heading into 2019, airlines were facing the biggest pilot shortage in history. Then, during the height of the Covid outbreak, travel fell off by upwards of 90 percent, and to cut costs, airlines offered senior pilots early retirement. Normal pilot training was also suspended in many places.

Travel has bounced back big time, but seasoned pilots, according to the terms of their union contracts, can never get their seniority back. Clearly, being at the bottom of the food chain and making base pay again is not going to induce these pilots to come out of retirement.

There is also a shortage of air traffic controllers. In a game of pass-the-blame, the National Air Traffic Controllers labor union has accused the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of  “not keeping up with attrition.” The FAA, meanwhile, claims it’s “on target to meet our hiring goal this year, and is reducing the backlog of training caused by Covid-19.” Airlines also fault the FAA and ATC shortage for travel delays, while the FAA says the airlines themselves are mostly to blame. Sigh. It’s no wonder people lose their minds at airports.

Compounding staffing shortages are FAA rules mandating flight time limitations and rest requirements — meaning, of course, that pilots and crews, much like our nation’s truck drivers, can’t work overtime. (This is why sometimes on super-delayed flights, a crew “time-outs” and is replaced by another, fresher crew.) According to the pilot I spoke to, this “perfect storm” of mass retirements, fewer people wanting to work, and work restrictions amounts to “musical chairs” when it comes to staffing planes.

My pilot friend tells me he enjoys his work; he shows up and does his job with minimal hand-holding. He humbly leaves out the hours of training and certifications it took to get him where he is — not to mention the responsibility, cool-under-pressure smarts, and Right Stuff that are required. Nonetheless, with training incentives, sign-on bonuses, and significant wage increases now being offered, he says it’s a great time to fly the friendly skies. So why aren’t more people lining up to pursue this rewarding, well-paying career with a high projected growth rate?

“The labor force is shrinking,” CBS News reported last month. “The number of people who either are working or looking for a job declined by 186,000 in November, marking the third straight monthly drop, according to Labor Department data [recently] released.”

It seems no one is willing to admit the obvious when it comes to why fewer people are working, though theories abound. CBS cites “a combination of sickness and child care issues for parents” as reasons why so many workers “remain sidelined” (the Heritage Foundation pours cold water on these theories). Forbes points to “shifts in generations and working styles,” the rise of the gig economy, and AI as culprits. Yet the “Great Resignation” — the record number of Americans who voluntarily quit their jobs last year — persists. And as Labor Department data shows, people aren’t returning to the workforce with “better (and ample) opportunities elsewhere,” as CNBC optimistically predicted they would.

The pilot shortage situation is reaching crisis levels, and solutions of all sorts have been proposed: offer more pay and signing bonuses, reduce the number of required training hours, raise the required retirement age from 65 to 67, offer low-interest loans and financial incentives for flight school, recruit more women of color. Yet how sustainable are all these gimmicks and why are they necessary? Why must Americans essentially be bribed to do a job that has traditionally been considered stressful and challenging, yes, but also high-profile, glamorous, exciting, rewarding, and interesting?

The pilot and ATC crunch is intertwined with the military, which is also facing severe shortages. “In the 1980s, roughly two-thirds of airline pilots came from the military,” reports California’s Army & Navy Academy, adding “The percentage is now one-third and, given the predicted shortage of military fliers, the pipeline of ex-military pilots will likely shrink further.”

Jeff Groom recently noted at the Spectator, “Despite unprecedented bonuses of up to $50,000 for enlistment and retention, the writing is on the wall. The youth aren’t lining up for Uncle Sam like they used to. And while [Covid restrictions putting a damper on outreach and competition from a robust civilian employment market] carry some weight, it’s the issue of desire that ought to be most alarming to the services. This crisis runs much deeper than a paycheck.”

Groom cites waning patriotic sentiment and the woke culture war as two interconnected reasons for low military recruitment. It’s likely these are the same reasons why airlines can’t recruit pilots, and companies everywhere in many industries can’t find workers. Whereas the traditional American mindset has been “I am obliged to contribute to society and perform my duties for the betterment of my family and my country,” the essence of modern, woke culture is that everyone is a victim and deserving of special treatment. Sacrifice, labor, and pride of work have largely been replaced by an attitude of entitlement, as we see new privileged classes emerge daily, and young people, thanks to detrimental government policies, have no incentive to work (check out these startling graphs) — let alone commit to something prestigious and venturesome like becoming a pilot.

America will either make a major attitude adjustment or else continue to hand out millions of dollars of reparations while airplane travel (and wood products and textiles and veterinarians and…) becomes a thing of the past. In the meantime, sit back, relax, order three overpriced airport cocktails, and, per my pilot friend’s advice, avoid regional airports. When your flight inevitably gets cancelled, you’ll have more options at a major hub.