(New York) Storms galore, smoke from Canadian fires, airline staff in tension: Americans wanting to take advantage of the long weekend to travel face degraded conditions, in addition to inflation which is eating away at their purchasing power .

Some 50.7 million people are expected to travel at least 80 kilometers from home this weekend, all means of transport combined, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), during this sequence which will culminate on Tuesday July 4 with the United States Declaration of Independence celebrations.

Some of those ahead of the game have already experienced setbacks, marked by the cancellation of more than 3,200 flights departing from or arriving at one of New York’s three major airports since the start of the week of made of intermittent thunderstorms.

More bad weather is expected next week.

Flying from Beijing, Jason Rinka learned upon landing in New York that his connection to Raleigh, South Carolina, was canceled. “It was madness at the airport,” he says from New York’s Penn Station.

With his wife and daughter, they chose to stay in the city for a few days before taking the train to Washington, from where they will catch a plane to Raleigh. This extended route saves them more than $1,000 compared to buying last-minute direct tickets.

“We thought about flying but I’m glad we took the train,” said another passenger at the station, Nick Kendall. Accustomed to traveling for his work, he observed that after the air pocket during the COVID-19 pandemic, the planes were again crowded.

Airlines keep repeating that they are preparing for this rebound in traffic but are still visibly facing upheavals.

Travelers to the northeastern United States are also dealing with degraded air quality as winds carry smoke from the fires in Canada.

“If you really want to leave, you have to get over it,” Ellen Coakley said fatalistically at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Thursday. This traveler came from Chicago, where the smell of Canadian fumes was, according to her, present.

The general manager of the American company United Airlines, Scott Kirby, has lambasted his employees for what he considers to be the shortcomings of the Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority (FAA), in a situation of understaffing.

According to him, the FAA has therefore ordered weather-related flight cancellations, when it “was usually able to manage” these situations “without impact on (the) business and (the) customers”.

The forced cancellations have snowballed for their airline, whose network of flight crew has been disrupted, leading to the cancellation of dozens of other flights and piles of luggage at several airports, particularly in Newark, a suburb of New York. .

Transportation Minister Pete Buttigieg told CNN that the company had “internal issues to resolve” and assured that the FAA “(continued) to monitor the weather and smoke.”

United still counted more than 225 cancellations and 550 delays on Friday noon, less than the previous days, according to the specialized site FlightAware.

“Storms in Denver, Chicago and the East Coast continue to be a problem, but most of today’s cancellations were made in advance to give customers time to adjust,” the company said in a statement. a message sent to AFP.

Since the pandemic, the aviation sector has struggled to meet its staffing needs, which leaves it at the mercy of climatic episodes such as during the cold snap in December, responsible for the cancellation of more than 10,000 flights.

“Companies don’t have a margin these days,” said Third Bridge analyst Chris Raite.

More than 80% of travelers on the July 4 weekend will travel by car, encouraged by the ebb in gasoline prices, which are more than 25% below their level of last year.

This boost is nevertheless put into perspective by the inflation which affects food (6.7% over one year), a major item of expenditure during this holiday weekend, marked by chain barbecues, against a backdrop of fireworks.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that each American household will spend, on average, $93 this weekend, 11% more than last year.