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How Will the Current Situation with the Airlines Affect the Recovery of Travel?

With inbound US testing mandates recently lifted, the recovery of the travel industry

Doug Cooke

should be in full swing. And it is! Daily numbers of domestic travelers are nearing, and in some cases surpassing, pre-pandemic numbers. However, there is a dark cloud that continues to hang over the recovery, and that is the state of the airline industry, and in particular, domestic airlines. I know I am preaching to the choir, but the number of flight cancellations is a major problem facing the travel industry, and one without a clear and immediate answer. Literally everyone I know that has been flying domestically over the past two weeks has had at least one leg of their journey canceled. As I write this page, our West Coast Editor is sitting in a hotel room in Miami after his connecting flight was canceled in Miami late last night, resulting in a 24-hour unintended layover. And that assumes his flight tonight actually leaves on time!

 

This rash of delays and flight cancellations has its roots in the pandemic. The problem comes down to staffing shortages. During Covid, government subsidies to the airlines mandated they maintain staffing levels. However, once the subsidies ran out, many pilots took early retirement and/or left the industry due to vaccine requirements. This just exacerbated an already decade-old shortage of pilots. Then, the domestic travel industry rebounded faster than was expected and the airlines over scheduled to meet demand, without the personnel necessary to support this rapid growth. What the traveling public is experiencing now in terms of delays and cancellations is a direct result of these insufficient staffing levels. And sadly, there is no immediate fix to the problem. Training new pilots is an extensive process and it will take months, if not years, for the airlines to satisfy their need for additional pilots. Add to this staffing challenges within TSA and the FAA, and the outlook for air travel this summer looks rather bleak. The question is, will the traveling public, with their pent up demand for travel, continue to “risk” their precious vacation time on flight delays and cancellations or will they look for vacation options closer to home that don’t require a flight? After all, most people became accustomed to taking local vacations during the past two years and may decide to continue to do so again, rather than become a flight cancellation statistic this summer.

 

For those brave souls who do decide to fly to their summer/fall vacation this year, here are some tips to help ensure an enjoyable experience. Whenever possible book early morning, and/or non-stop trips. If possible use secondary airports. Use the airlines’ apps to check the status of inbound flights before leaving home for the airport. And lastly, travel insurance is a must. While this does not paint a pretty picture for summer travel, things should start getting better in September when demand decreases and new pilots start filling left hand cockpit seats. Perhaps suggest that your clients postpone their vacations plans until fall or winter when the flight situation has improved. 

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