It could be another weekend of travel crunch for struggling airlines.
"We need to find some solutions — desperately find some solutions," said Rick Hoefling, the president and CEO of CommutAir.
As passengers clog airports in pre-pandemic numbers, pilots are demanding better pay amid a pilot shortage that's stretching their working hours and testing their patience.
Outside American Airlines headquarters Thursday, there was a seemingly endless line of pilots. At airports across the country this week, Delta pilots are threatening to strike, echoing calls they've been making for months.
"We're faced now with a country that rebounded very, very quickly in terms of demand for air travel and a void that needed to be filled," said Hoefling.
Hoefling talked about his company's recent pay bump for pilots, who are now making $72 an hour in junior positions and $100 per flight hour as captains.
"When you start pulling pilots into regional airlines, that starts affecting small cities across America. And 60% of the airports in the United States are served only by regional airlines," said Hoefling.
But change can't come fast enough.
The pilot shortage was forecast before the pandemic.
Now it's settled in with some help from COVID making travel rebound expensive.
"The sooner you buy your tickets the better off you are in regards to pricing," said David Fishman, a travel agent in Michigan.
He sees an expensive fall ahead of us and pricier tickets for the winter holidays.
"Right now, I've seen ticket prices to Florida as high as over $1,000," said Fishman.
And it's already started with this Labor Day weekend, one of the most expensive in years.
Travel website Hopper says ticket prices this weekend cost travelers 23% more than last year, and 20% more than 2019 before the pandemic.
Still, the Consumer Price Index shows average airfare trending down later in the summer — which means as you make holiday plans, buy sooner rather than later.
"Everybody else is thinking about summer travel, Labor Day travel, and that's why now is the time when you actually do see some of those cheap holiday flights pop up," said Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott's Cheap Flights.