Staff shortages. Grounded planes. Flight cancellations. Soaring airfares. Even casual travelers can see that that 2022 is far from the airline industry’s shining hour.
Current statistics paint a decidedly unpleasant picture of air travel today. According to the United States Department of Transportation, more than 63,000 flights were cancelled so far this year, compared to just over 44,000 in 2019, before the pandemic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, airline fares jumped 12.6% in May, after surging 18.6% the month before.
Why Are Flights Being Canceled?
There are many reasons that flights are being canceled and delayed at unprecedented rates, ranging from the usual reasons (bad weather) to those of the pandemic era — such as rising fuel prices, COVID-19 case rates, air traffic control issues and staffing shortages.
For example, CNN reports that pilots are facing unprecedented levels of fatigue, while USA Today says that airlines have not been quick enough to replace pilots who have retired or taken a leave of absence.
Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group, says it’s a problem of supply and demand.
“It’s the perfect storm,” he said. “We have service issues across the entire travel and tourism landscape combined with the post-pandemic [travel] surge, which now more than ever requires a travel advisor for even some of the simplest bookings.”
How Many Flights Were Canceled Today?
To provide a visual idea of what travelers face, the flight tracking company FlightAware posts an aptly named MiseryMap, a live, graphic representation of current flight delays at airports around the U.S.
Air travel has gotten so problematic that, in June, Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. secretary of transportation, pressured airline executives to revise flight schedules and do what that they can to minimize flight cancellations during the summer travel season. (The next day, Buttigieg's flight was canceled.)
Travel Advisors Can Help With Flight Cancellations
Indeed, the pandemic has made more travelers aware of the value and services that travel advisors provide. Travel professionals, meanwhile, must now help clients deal with a range of increasingly common hassles.
As for the passengers, they are experiencing long lines at the airport, high prices on nonstops to prime destinations and, in the event of a flight cancellation, it taking hours to rebook.
“Because of the unexpected surge in travel, advisors are having to work harder to find inventory to meet the client’s expectation on destination and price,” Vlitas said. “As for the passengers, they are experiencing long lines at the airport, high prices on nonstops to prime destinations and, in the event of a flight cancellation, it taking hours to rebook. And there is the possibility of having to overnight or delay your flight by a day or two. The consumer [must also] decide within a shorter window due to high demand.”
Bundling Air Can Be Problematic When Flights Are Canceled
The challenges of air travel can be even more complex when booking a vacation package, according to Libbi Roed, owner of The Gypsea Traveller in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.
“The biggest struggle is [that] I book flights as part of a package with a supplier; therefore, the airlines won’t work with my clients or me to make changes to the flights,” she said. “I then need to call or email my supplier and ask for new flights. Sometimes the category of flights we booked aren’t available, so there aren’t any options.”
My clients have become extremely frustrated as they usually end up with worse options than they chose.
“My clients have become extremely frustrated as they usually end up with worse options than they chose,” Roed added. “Many agents I know refuse to book air for their clients, as the clients truly have the most flexibility if they book it themselves. I haven’t been comfortable doing this yet; I feel like it’s not a complete package without the air, and my clients are coming to me for assistance. But I’ve found that when a schedule change occurs, I feel like I’m no help.”
Vlitas emphasizes the importance of being informed in order to be better prepared for any problems that may arise.
“Internova Travel Group has built support teams to assist our customers,” he said. “We use a combination of senior support specialists plus an airline support desk, specifically available by IATA numbers. Part of our strategy is to be proactive by running daily lists and keeping an eye on weather, sizes of planes and airport options. As for price increases, advisors must look at connections versus nonstops that are less expensive, combined with private air programs.”
Why Are Flights More Expensive?
Even with airfare hikes and more cancellations and delays, most statistics indicate that consumers are still eager to fly. But, as always, flexibility is the key to finding the best fares, Vlitas notes.
The spikes we are seeing in fares are more about demand and capacity that have yet to reach 2019 levels, and the rising cost of fuel.
“The spikes we are seeing in fares are more about demand and capacity that have yet to reach 2019 levels, and the rising cost of fuel,” he explained. “If you look at fares filed for the lower buckets, they are pretty reasonable, but because of demand, they are sold out. However, if you are willing to shift a day or two and connect, you can still find 2019-level fares.”
Flexibility is especially important as the nation moves into peak summer travel season. ValuePenguin, a consumer research site that belongs to LendingTree, predicts that — if last year’s trends continue — travelers should expect airports in Florida, Alaska, Maine and Myrtle Beach, S.C., to be especially busy during the summer months, which could result in higher airfares.
Will the Rising Cost of Air Travel Drive Travelers Away?
“There is no one answer to this question,” said Fred Hoffmann, editor of The True Wilderness, a nature travel website. “It will vary from traveler to traveler. Some people may start resisting airfare hikes as soon as they see them, while others may only start flying less when the prices become too high for their budget."
Additionally, some people may choose to fly less often but still take occasional trips, while others may stop flying altogether, he said.
"Ultimately," Hoffmann said, "It will depend on the individual traveler and their personal circumstances.”