How the Air Travel Industry Is Preparing for the Holiday Season
It's reasonable to say that the experience of flying in a post-pandemic world has been less than ideal.
Airline industry staffing shortages, flight delays, a continual stream of delayed flights, and outright cancellations characterized the summer 2022 travel season. Predicting whether or not an impending flight would actually take place as scheduled became a running joke for many flyers.
Flying became more expensive, which made things worse. According to Hopper, Americans spent around 32% more on airline tickets in July 2022 than they did a year earlier.
What can we all anticipate from air travel in the months to come and how is the industry preparing for what is generally the busiest period of the year as the frantic winter holiday travel season draws near?
Both good and bad news for passengers can be found in the answers to those questions.
Flight Schedules Have Been Reduced
Even with record inflation sweeping the country and the cost of living ballooning for Americans, travel remains a priority for many people, says Gabe Saglie, senior communications manager for Travelzoo. It’s a reality that will impact the holiday travel rush.
The airline industry is anticipating a strong holiday season and to prepare, airlines have been recalibrating flight schedules and doing their best to reinforce staffing.
According to Saglie, airlines have been revising their holiday schedules since late summer in order to reduce delays and cancellations. The changes will have the greatest impact on shorter, regional domestic flights. This means fewer flight options for those traveling to smaller cities and towns.
Shortages Continue Despite Increasing Staffing Levels
It goes without saying that a lack of commercial pilots and other staff members contributed significantly to the difficulties many travelers had this past summer. Since 2019, there have been 4% fewer pilots working for airlines. Many airlines, including JetBlue and Spirit, cut summer schedules in response to such personnel issues.
According to Saglie of Travelzoo, airlines are attempting to resolve this problem before the holidays.
Cancellations are always a possibility when travel volume surges as it does during the holidays, Saglie added, but in most cases it will likely be the product of weather, which becomes a greater threat during the winter months.
It's vital to keep in mind that the business still faces significant labor shortages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in order to address the industry's current commercial pilot shortage difficulties, 18,000 new pilots would need to be hired per year for the next ten years.
In addition to the fact that there is still a lot of hiring to be done, training new airline staff takes time.
“It takes a while for airlines to hire and train, especially in demanding positions such as an airline pilot,” said Antoine Wilson, owner of A.D. Elite Travels.
“I feel it will be a repeat of earlier this year with flight cancellations and delays,” Wilson added.
Learning From Past Mistakes and Challenges
There's no denying that summer travel was a nightmare for many airline passengers.
According to a recent TripIt user survey, 57% of those who traveled by plane in the previous six months experienced some kind of disruption. According to the survey, the top two culprits were flight delays and cancellations. The majority of those who experienced disruptions had a flight delay of an hour or more (82%), and many had a flight canceled (38%).
Similar observations are made by Julie Kyse, vice president of international air alliances at Expedia Group.
“The entire industry has had to learn some hard lessons from the summer, but everyone in the value chain has been working to improve the experience, including us,” said Kyse.
Expedia has made this effort in part by improving the customer experience while making flight reservations on their website.
Prepare yourself for crowds
The airlines have little control over some of the difficulties that lie ahead. Vacationers are returning, which brings Christmas crowds.
99% of TripIt users reported that they are planning a trip this year. One in four people indicated they will travel for Thanksgiving, and nearly one in three are planning trips for Christmas and New Year's.
“That’s more than what we heard last year. When we asked the same question last fall, only 27% of respondents said they’d travel for the winter holidays and just 19% for Thanksgiving,” says Moyse.
Many holiday travelers say they plan to arrive at the airport earlier than in the past (52%), while others intend to be more selective with the travel providers they use (45%), and nearly as many (44%) say they will be well prepared for delays and come bearing snacks and reading materials. The challenges of summer air travel are top of mind for countless holiday travelers.
The best advice is to get to the airport early, be patient, and enjoy the trip!