Travel forecast: Summer air travel hell may give way to ‘optimal’ fall

(CNN) – Summer air travel is trying to put it mildly. Hilarious, many travelers would say.

About 55,000 flights have been canceled in the US since the Friday before Memorial Day, and nearly a quarter of US flights this summer have been delayed, according to data from flight tracking site FlightAware.

Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and FlightAware spokeswoman, said “a major problem with staff shortages” has affected air travel this season and from now until 2022.

Bangs is keen to give airlines the benefit of the doubt in their efforts to meet the pre-pandemic flight schedule with 2022 staffing challenges.

“I think they really thought they would have enough staff to come back, and hire enough new people to meet demand, but as we’ve all seen, they didn’t,” Bangs said.

Weather and air traffic controller staffing issues have added to the disruption in the summer.

But some industry experts were cautiously optimistic about air travel this Labor Day holiday weekend, with an easy drop for travel in September and October and predictions of somewhat better fares for travel.

Hopes for Labor Day Weekend

Scott Keyes, founder of the flight deals and travel advice site Scott’s Cheap Flights, recently told CNN Travel that he expected less chaos on Labor Day.

“Looking back in the summer, you had some big holiday travel periods. You had Memorial Day when air travel got really bad. … And then you had the fourth weekend, when there was minimal travel disruption,” Keys said.

He predicted that Labor Day weekend would be closer to the Fourth of July. He expected fewer air passengers than on Memorial Day, translating to less stress on the system and less chance of a domino effect when weather or staffing is less than ideal.

According to travel app Hopper, 12.6 million passengers were scheduled to fly through US airports over the holiday weekend. Hopper predicted that Thursday and Friday would be the busiest days, with more crowds on Monday for travelers heading home.

Air traffic remained relatively smooth on Thursday. About 300 flights were canceled – about 1% of flights, according to flight aware data, At the peak of this summer’s cancellations, more than 6% of flights were cancelled.

Around 150 flights had been canceled till Friday afternoon.

US Department of Transportation Posted a new online dashboard Where passengers can find comparative information about what each major US airline offers to passengers when delays or cancellations occur due to factors within the airline’s control.
Passengers arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 3, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey.

Passengers arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 3, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey.

John Nession/Star Max/AP

‘Optimal’ travel is headed for collapse

Bangs said airlines have reduced their summer schedules by about 15%, which he said is one of the main reasons the number of delays and cancellations is not high.

By this time in the summer of 2019, more than 50,000 flights had been canceled – or about 1.7% of flights. About 18% of flights were delayed that summer. Those figures top 55,000 cancellations this summer – or about 2.2% of flights, with about 23% delayed.

Bangs said a reduction in schedule is already in play for the fall, as well as demand in general eases when kids return to school.

It said more than 52,000 flights have been removed from US carriers’ fall programs, including over 30,000 American Airlines flights.

“Travel during September through October should be optimal, as demand subsides, so there isn’t the same level of stress on heavy airline schedules as we saw in the summer,” Bangs said.

And there is reason for people to be happy about the prices right now.

Hopper’s Experts US domestic airfares recently saw a 37 percent drop compared to peak summer airfares for travel in September and October.

And it’s worth monitoring and pouncing on lucrative vacation rentals, too. “Airfare will increase exponentially as we move toward Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Hopper’s chief economist, Hayley Berg.

Bangs saw prices drop by a third for several city pairs in September and October.

He added, “With the drop in seat capacity, those considering traveling during September and October and even early November should buy those tickets now while they have been discounted. “

Bangs expects vacation rentals to remain low in September and possibly October before going up.

Passengers wait at LaGuardia Airport in the Queens borough of New York on July 1, 2022.

Passengers wait at LaGuardia Airport in the Queens borough of New York on July 1, 2022.

Angus Mordent / Bloomberg / Getty Images

What about holiday travel later this year?

Bangs said airlines will only be fully prepared for the 2022 Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons “when they step up their employee staffing levels to or even beyond 2019 levels.”

She also said that she expects the prevalence of COVID variants, as well as seasonal viruses such as the flu, to affect employee absenteeism this fall, noting that the disease hit airlines hard during the 2021 Christmas season and into January. hit with

“With pared-back schedules and ramp-ups to increase staffing, airlines look to be in a better position than last year in the 2021 Thanksgiving and holiday travel season,” Bangs said.

The weather is, of course, a wild card. Last Thanksgiving went smoothly “partly because the weather was very cooperative in the 48 states.”

Shaping the Air Travel Approach

Work is in progress to address the problems of air travel in the United States.

In addition to its pressure on airlines to provide more transparency about passenger rights, the DoT has proposed new rules that will strengthen safety for airline passengers. that’s the offer Open for public comment.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently told CNN’s Kate Bolduan, “I understand you’ll never have zero cancellations. There’s always going to be a storm somewhere, a surprise, an issue somewhere.”

“But we need a robust system. And we’re expecting airlines that collect revenue by selling tickets to be ready to service the tickets they sell.”

Bangs said the US pilot shortage won’t go away anytime soon.

“This may seem less problematic during the fall months as demand falls, the weather improves, and there are fewer flights overall. But new pilots can only be built on a longer timeline,” she said.

And while less visible to the public, mechanics and technicians are also in short supply, Bangs said.

Transportation Secretary Buttigieg acknowledged that the Federal Aviation Administration also has staffing issues to address, though he still puts most of the recent air travel disruptions on airlines.

“We have seen that there have been staffing challenges to air traffic control in the New York area and Florida airspace in particular – mostly because of the hole that the pandemic burst in the training pipeline,” he said.

More strategies to move forward

Here are some tips for navigating the skies now and in the weeks and months to come, while we hope and wait for an easy journey:

Fly as fast as possible: “The sooner you book your flight, the better it will go because … the weather is better in the morning than in the afternoon,” Keys said. “But also not because you’re at risk for domino-effect cancellations.”

Imitation-savvy business travellers: “They’ve got TSA pre-checks. They’ve downloaded the airline apps to their phones,” Bangs said. The FlightAware app also helps in keeping passengers alert about flight changes.

Opt for Nonstop: Bangs and Keys suggests booking nonstop on connecting flights whenever possible. It may be worth the extra cost, if any.

Do not check the bag: “If your flight is delayed or you need to reschedule or miss a connection, it’s going to be a lot easier to do if they don’t have to find your bag in the belly of the plane,” Keys said.

Ask for anything you can get: The airlines’ revised policies (see link above) aim to cover what you are entitled to if your flight is disrupted.

Bangs said you can also request other accommodations such as a free flight voucher or a mile deposit to your frequent flight account.

“See what you can find,” and “Always be polite.”

Top image: Passengers queue to enter a security checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 1, 2022. (Gina Moon/Getty Images)

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