Summer of Delays

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to announce a contract for a high-tech satellite system Thursday that would allow more jets to fly in the same airspace, but that improvement that should ease travel delays will be too late for the 15.7 million Americans who are expected to fly this holiday weekend.

It's been a horrible summer for air travel, with cancellations nearly doubled from last year and more than 30,000 flights never getting off the ground.

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Those crowds are expected to continue this weekend with a 3 percent jump in Labor Day travel as compared to last year, according to the Air Transport Association of America.

"We're in a situation where we're seeing the worse reported delays in a decade," Amy Ziff of Travelocity told ABC's David Kerley. "Service is just at a breaking point so I think we are at a pretty dire situation with the entire system."

The system is stressed on many fronts including the FAA's antiquated air traffic control system. The proposed improvements, which will allow air traffic control to track jets, will not be in place for at least five years.

"This is the first step in a long road to transforming the system into a much more technologically advanced system," said John Meehan of the air transport association.

Millions of Travelers and Counting

As more people fly, there are also more planes in the skies. Airlines have added 1,000 commuter jets since 2000 to increase flight options.

"They're relying increasingly on small regional jets and pumping lots of flights on small airplanes into airports that really can't handle that," said Wall Street Journal travel columnist Scott McCartney.

Some passengers are now trying to beat the system by scheduling the first flights in the morning to avoid afternoon delays and mobs of people in the waiting areas.

But Ziff says that may not be enough to ensure a hassle-free flight.

"Go in there expecting the worse and hope for the best," she said. "Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones and you won't be delayed."

A group of travelers did get lucky in Syracuse, N.Y., recently where Delta allowed agent Lynn Casey and the flight crews to buy pizzas for three stranded plane loads of passengers.

"When they saw that food, their eyes just opened up," Casey said. "They were beyond happy."

Unfortunately for most people who fly, free pizza is the exception.

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