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

(CNN) – Summer air travel has been tested, to put it mildly. A lot of visitors will say.

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

Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for FlightAware, said “a major problem of staffing shortages” has hampered air travel this season and all of 2022 so far. .

Bangs tend to give airlines the benefit of the doubt in their efforts to ramp up pre-pandemic flight schedules with 2022 staffing challenges.

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

Problems with air traffic controllers and weather added to summer disruptions.

However, some industry experts were cautiously optimistic about air travel this Labor Day holiday weekend, with predictions of a smoother fall and some good fares. more for tours in September and October.

Hoping for Labor Day weekend

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

“Looking back to the summer, you had a couple of big holidays. You had Memorial Day when air travel went bad. … And then you had the weekend on the 4th. July, when travel is less likely to be disrupted,” Keyes said.

He predicts that the Labor Day weekend will be closer to July 4. He predicts fewer air travelers than Memorial Day, which makes the system less stressful and the chance of a domino effect lower if the weather or personnel are less than ideal.

According to travel app Hopper, 12.6 million passengers were scheduled to fly from US airports over the weekend. Hopper predicts that Thursday and Friday will be the busiest days, with more visitors on Mondays when visitors get home.

The air traffic on Thursday was relatively smooth. About 300 flights were canceled – about 1% of flights, according to FlightAware Data. At this summer’s peak cancellations, more than 6% of flights were cancelled.

By Friday afternoon, about 150 flights had been cancelled.

The United States Department of Transportation has posted a new online dashboard where passengers can find comparative information on what each of the major U.S. airlines offers to passengers when delays or cancellations are caused by factors within the airline’s control.
Visitors arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 3, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey.

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

John Nacion / STAR MAX / AP

‘Optimal’ travel is about to fall

Bangs said airlines have reduced their summer schedules by about 15%, which she says is one of the main reasons why the number of flight delays and cancellations has not been higher.

By this time in the summer of 2019, there were more than 50,000 flights canceled – about 1.7% of flights. About 18% of flights were delayed that summer. This summer, those numbers are topping 55,000 flights – or about 2.2% of flights, with about 23% of flights being delayed.

Bangs said deeper schedule cuts were introduced in the fall, plus demand typically falls as children return to school.

She said more than 52,000 flights have been dropped from US carriers’ fall schedules, including more than 30,000 won American Airlines flights.

Bangs said: “Travel should be optimal between September and October, as demand eases there should not be the same level of stress on the dense air schedules that we have seen during the off-season. summer”.

And there’s reason for everyone to cheer right now regarding price.

Experts at Hopper recently saw domestic US airfares drop 37% for travel in September and October compared to peak summer airfares.

And it’s also worth watching and hunting for attractive holiday fares. Hayley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist, said airfares “will go up very quickly as we move towards Thanksgiving and Christmas”.

Bangs also recorded a one-third discount for many couples in the city in September and October.

“With seats expected to drop in the fall, those considering traveling in September and October and even early November should buy those tickets now as they are discounted,” she said. “.

Bangs expects holiday fares to remain lower through September and possibly into October before increasing.

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

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

Image Angus Mordant / Bloomberg / Getty

What about holiday travel later this year?

Bangs said airlines will only fully prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2022 “when they bring their staffing levels back to or even above 2019 levels.”

She also said she expects the circulation of Covid variants, plus seasonal viruses like the flu, to affect employee layoffs this fall, noting that the illness hit hard. to airlines during the 2021 Christmas season and into January.

“With back-and-forth schedules to increase staffing, airlines are in a better position than last year during the Thanksgiving and holiday season 2021,” Bangs said.

Weather, of course, is a wild card. Last year’s Thanksgiving went smoothly “in part because of very favorable weather across the 48 contiguous states.”

Shaping the future of air travel

Solving the problems of US air travel is a work in progress.

In addition to pressure on airlines to be more transparent about passengers’ rights, the DOT has proposed new regulations to strengthen the protection of air passengers. That proposal is open for public comment.

“I understand you’re never going to have zero cancellations. There’s always a storm somewhere, a surprise somewhere, a problem somewhere,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. recently.

“But we need a more robust system. And we expect airlines to gain revenue by selling tickets that are willing to serve the tickets they sell.”

The US pilot shortage will not go away anytime soon, Bangs said.

“It seems less of an issue in the fall months when demand drops, weather improves and there are generally fewer flights. But new pilots can only be created for so long,” she said. speak.

And while little is known to the public, mechanics and technicians are also in short supply, Bangs said.

Transport Minister Buttigieg has acknowledged that the Federal Aviation Administration also has staffing issues to deal with, although he still attributes most of the recent air travel disruptions to airlines. caused by aviation.

“We’ve seen that particularly in the New York area and the Florida airspace there have been personnel challenges with air traffic control – primarily due to the vulnerability that the pandemic has ripped through,” he said. training tube,” he said.

More strategies to put forward

Here are some tips on how to navigate the skies now and in the coming weeks and months while we hope and await smoother rides:

Take the earliest flight possible: “The earlier you book your flight, the more likely it is to go smoothly because… the weather tends to be better in the morning than it is in the afternoon,” says Keyes. “But also because you don’t risk canceling the domino effect.”

Imitate savvy business travelers: “They pre-checked the TSA. They downloaded the airline apps to their phones,” Bangs said. The FlightAware app also helps keep travelers informed of flight changes.

Choose to go straight: Bangs and Keyes suggest booking direct through connecting flights whenever possible. It might be worth the additional cost if any.

Don’t check bags: “If your flight is delayed or you need to reschedule or miss your connection, it would be a lot easier if they didn’t have to find your bag in the belly of the plane,” says Keyes.

Ask for anything you can get: Revised airline policies (see links above) are intended to make it clearer what you are entitled to if your flight is disrupted.

You can also claim other accommodations like free vouchers or a deposit of miles to your frequent flyer account, Bangs says.

“See what you can get,” and “always be polite.”

Top image: Travelers line up to enter the security checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 1, 2022. (Jeenah Moon / Getty Images)

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