Air travel in the fall: What to expect on Labor Day and beyond

(CNN) – Summer air travel was trying, to put it mildly. Many travelers would say.

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

Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokeswoman for FlightAware, said a “major understaffing problem” has plagued 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 the recruitment challenges of 2022.

“I think they really thought they were going to come back with enough staff, to hire enough new staff, to meet the demand, but as we’ve all seen, they haven’t,” Bangs said.

Staffing issues with the weather controller and air traffic added to the summer disruption.

But some industry experts are cautiously optimistic about air travel this Labor Day weekend, with expectations for a smoother travel season in the fall.

According to travel app Huber, 12.6 million passengers are scheduled to fly from US airports over the weekend. Huber expects Thursday and Friday to be his busiest days. Monday will also be busy as travelers head home.

The US Department of Transportation has published a new online dashboard where travelers can find comparative information on what each of the large US airlines offers to passengers when delays or cancellations are caused by factors under the airline’s control.

Hope for the Labor Day holiday

Scott Keys, founder of flight deals and travel advisory website Scott’s Cheap Flights, recently told CNN Travel that he expects fewer air travel disruptions around Labor Day weekend than travelers do on Memorial Day weekend at the start of summer.

“Looking back in the summer, I had two huge periods of holiday travel. I had Memorial Day when flights went terribly. There were widespread delays and cancellations that turned into a nightmare for many travelers. …and then you had Fourth of July weekend, when there was minimal travel disruption.”

The Labor Day weekend is expected to be closer to the Fourth of July.

“And the reason for that, I think, is that there will be fewer travelers on Labor Day than on Memorial Day,” he said. “With fewer passengers, you’ll have less stress on the system.”

And fewer chances of a domino effect if the weather or employment is less than ideal. By 1 p.m. ET Thursday, about 1,600 flights within, into or out of the United States had been postponed, according to FlightAware. This summer, thousands of delays per day were the norm. About 160 flights had been canceled by 1pm

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

John Nasion / Star Max / AFP

The “optimal” travel is heading into the fall

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

By about this time in the summer of 2019, there were just over 50,000 flight cancellations — or about 1.7% of trips. About 18% of flights were delayed that summer. This summer, those numbers are approaching 55,000 cancellations – or about 2.2% of flights, with about 23% delays.

The deeper cuts to the schedule are already underway in the fall, Bangs said, in addition to declining demand typically as children return to school.

It said more than 52,000 flights were dropped from US airlines’ fall schedules, including more than 30,000 American Airlines flights.

“Travel should ideally be from September to October, when demand is low, so there is not the same level of pressure on heavy flight schedules that we saw during the summer,” Bangs said.

And there’s a reason people are cheering now about prices.

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

It’s also worth keeping an eye on and swooping in on attractive vacation rates, too. Air fares are “going to go up very quickly as we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Hayley Berg, Huber’s chief economist.

Explosions also noted a one-third drop in prices for many city pairs in September and October.

“With reduced seating capacity scheduled for the fall, people considering travel during September, October and into early November should purchase these tickets now while they are discounted,” she said.

Bangs expects holiday ticket prices to remain low through September and possibly even October before rising.

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

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

Angus Mordaunt/Bloomberg/Getty Images

How about vacation travel later this year?

Bangs said airlines will be well prepared for the Thanksgiving and Christmas season of 2022 “when staffing levels for their employees return to or exceed 2019 levels.”

It also said it expects the circulation of Covid variants, as well as seasonal viruses such as influenza, to affect employee absenteeism this fall, noting that the disease hit airlines hard during the 2021 Christmas season and into January.

“With the tight schedule and ramping up staff, airlines look better than last year for the 2021 Thanksgiving and holiday season,” Bangs said.

The weather, of course, is a wild card. The recent Thanksgiving went smoothly “in part because the weather has been so cooperative across the 48 contiguous states.”

Shaping the look of air travel

Addressing the problems of air travel in the United States is largely a work in progress.

In addition to its pressure on airlines to provide more transparency about passenger rights, the Department of Transportation has proposed new rules that would enhance protections for airline passengers. This proposal is open for public comment.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN correspondent Kate Bolduan recently, “My understanding is there won’t be any cancellation. There will always be a storm somewhere, a surprise somewhere, an issue somewhere.”

“But we need a stronger system. And we expect airlines that collect revenue by selling tickets will be ready to service the tickets they sell.”

Bangs said the shortage of American pilots will not go away soon.

“It may seem less problematic during the fall months with lower demand, better weather and fewer flights there in general. But new pilots can only be created in a long time frame,” she said.

While it’s less visible to the public, Bangs said, mechanics and technicians are in short supply.

Transportation Secretary Buttigieg acknowledged that the FAA also has staffing issues that need to be addressed, even though he still puts the majority of recent air travel disruptions on airlines.

“We’ve seen that particularly in the New York area and Florida airspace there have been staffing challenges for air traffic control — mostly because of the hole that the pandemic has created in the training pipeline,” he said.

More exit strategies in the future

Here are some tips for navigating the sky now and in the coming weeks and months as we hope and anticipate smoother flights:

Take the closest possible ride: “The earlier you book your flight, the better the odds are that it will go smoothly because … the weather tends to be better in the morning than in the afternoon,” Keys said. “But also because you don’t risk canceling the domino effect.”

The tradition of smart business travelers: “They got a TSA pre-screened,” Bangs said. “Their airline apps were downloaded to their phones.” FlightAware also helps keep travelers alert to flight changes.

Non-stop flights: Bangs and Keyes suggest booking non-stop on connecting flights at any time possible. It may be worth the extra cost if any.

Do not check the bag: “If your flight is delayed or needs to be rescheduled or you miss a connection, it would be a lot easier to do that if they also didn’t have to find your bag in the belly of the plane,” Keyes said.

Ask what you can get: The revised airline policies (see links above) are intended to clarify what you are entitled to if your flight is disrupted.

You can also request other accommodations like a free flight voucher or deposit miles into your frequent flyer account, Bangs said.

“Look what you can get” and “Always be polite.”

Top photo: Passengers line up to enter a security checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 1, 2022 (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

#Air #travel #fall #expect #Labor #Day

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.