Why You’ll Hate Traveling This Summer

Airlines had said they were ready to head off the service issues that plagued much of the industry last year. But between Friday and Monday, US airlines canceled 2,653 flights, or nearly 3% of their collective schedules, according to tracking service FlightAware. That’s more than they had canceled for the same holiday weekend the previous three years combined.

In 2019, the year before the pandemic hit, US airlines canceled just 1.2% of their scheduled flights, despite scheduling 6,600 more flights.

“This does not bode well for the summer travel season as we expect a repeat in the summer months as more and more people fly,” airlines analyst Helane Becker said on Tuesday. at Cowen, in a note to customers. “It was a chance for the airlines to show that the delays of last summer would not be repeated this summer, and yet it was not to be.”

Airlines have far fewer employees, especially pilots, than before the pandemic. They received $54 billion in taxpayer aid at the height of the health crisis to avoid involuntary layoffs, but most airlines offered buyouts and early retirement packages to cut staff and save money. money as air traffic almost came to a standstill. But it takes years to certify pilots and some other airline employees.

So airlines have little room for error when hit by bad weather, air traffic control issues or employee calls. sick, what they said happened this weekend.

“More than ever in our history, the various factors that are currently impacting our operations – weather and air traffic control, supplier personnel, rising Covid case rates contributing to higher than expected unplanned absences in certain workgroups — results in an operation that doesn’t always live up to the standards Delta has set for the industry in recent years,” said Allison Ausband, Delta’s director of customer experience, in a message online. line.

But airline critics say management shouldn’t have been taken by surprise: they knew they didn’t have the margin for error they needed. After service problems throughout 2021, including during the end-of-year holidays, airlines should have anticipated these problems, said Captain Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, the union American Airlines pilots.

“When you test the airline’s operating model, you get the same results,” Tajer said. With flights already booked at full capacity, “a canceled flight not only causes a cascading effect, it causes a tidal wave of problems. It’s deja vu again,” Tajer added.

With planes as full as they’ve ever been, airlines may take longer to find booked passengers on canceled flights another seat to get to your destination, Tajer said. Call centers are also understaffed and overwhelmed with demand, especially when things go wrong like this weekend.

“You can wait more hours on the phone to book a flight than the time the flight will take you,” he said.

Staff shortages also mean higher rates

Staff shortages mean US airlines are still unable to offer all the flights needed to meet demand. US domestic flight capacity in June, July and August this year is 5% lower than it was in those months in 2019, according to Cirium, an aviation analytics firm.

But passengers, especially vacationers, are eager to travel again this summer. Many airlines have reported record numbers of customers booking flights earlier for the summer this year.

“There is a mismatch between supply and demand,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flight, a travel booking site. “Your hopes of getting cheap flights for the summer are slim to none.”

This combination of record demand and limited supply of seats means much higher fares. The Consumer Price Index, the government’s reading of inflation, shows fares in April were up 33% from a year ago and 10.6% from April 2019.

The situation is likely worse for leisure travelers than these numbers suggest, as business and international travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Since these passengers pay higher fares than more price-sensitive domestic travellers, going on vacation is much more expensive than before.

And it’s not just plane tickets that are more expensive.

A shortage of available vehicles drove rental car prices in April up 70% from April 2019. Hotels and other accommodations were up 20% in April from a year ago and 10.6 % compared to April 2019. All these price increases are probable. to speed up even more during the busy summer travel months.

And, of course, gas prices are at an all-time high, which could lead more travelers to fly rather than drive on some trips.

Experts believe that price pressures will start to ease in the fall, but not before.

“The huge surge in demand, I think we’re probably going to exhaust that this summer,” said Hayley Berg, chief economist at Hopper, another travel booking site. “That and the normal drop in demand we see in September and October will likely mean lower rates.”

But she said it’s a good idea to book a trip for the holiday season if you already know your plans. The same dynamic of strong demand and lower supply is then likely to repeat itself.

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