Welcome to a hell of a summer of travel
Fasten your seatbelts: there is travel turbulence ahead. What started as a summer of so-called “revenge travel,” after two years of the pandemic, has turned into travel hell.
“I am extremely frustrated and disappointed,” one flyer said.
“They picked up a few people and then all of a sudden they canceled the flight,” another said.
Kyndal Young and her kids weren’t about to risk wasting a minute at Disney World this weekend. “In case we missed it [flight]I had an extra day to make up…I built an extra day,” she said.
Forty-eight million people are expected to travel this Independence Day weekend, the busiest of the pandemic, and the country’s airlines are struggling to keep up. Since Memorial Day, in the United States alone, more than 200,000 flights have been delayed and 24,000 canceled, affecting nearly 2.4 million passengers, roughly the population of Houston.
That’s up from pre-pandemic levels, as airlines fly up to 25% less than in 2019 (according to Flight Aware) and charge 45% more for airfare ( according to Hopper).
Correspondent Kris Van Cleave asked: ‘Is it fair to say it’s the airlines’ fault?
“There is a shared responsibility; air travel and aviation is a team sport,” said Henry Harteveldt, airline industry analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research in San Francisco.
Regarding what went wrong this summer, Harteveldt said: “It seems like everything went wrong. First, the airlines are still working to rehire pilots, flight attendants and other employees. Second , the FAA is still working to rehire people. Third, the airlines have scheduled a lot of flights. And four, we just had bad weather, and a lot of that.
“You put it all together and you have a fragile system that has no room to flex. It’s breaking.”
Van Cleave asked, “Congress, the taxpayers bailed out the airlines so they wouldn’t lay people off. How come there aren’t enough people?”
“Airlines got over $50 billion in government subsidies to keep operating and keeping people working, but in the first few months, before the subsidies were guaranteed, and seeing their traffic drop 96%, airlines airlines panicked.”
This pandemic panic has led airlines to offer early retirement to tens of thousands of employees. In December 2020, more than 3,000 pilots took buyouts, compounding a growing pilot shortage.
Delta pilots marked the start of this holiday weekend. Pilot Maggie Eickoff told Van Cleave: “What Delta has done is passed us. We just don’t have the pilots right now.”
And COVID continues to be an unwanted passenger, resulting in higher than normal sick calls.
Captain Laura Einsetler, who has been an airline pilot for 27 years, predicted: “The summer is going to be tough, so we’re going to get through it as best we can. It’s as frustrating for us as it gets. for passengers.”
“We also don’t want our flights to be delayed,” Einsetler said. “We like to be in charge, in control and on schedule as we planned. Right now we’re doing things to sacrifice, things like flying on our days off and giving up our vacation for ourselves. “
“CBS Sunday Morning” attempted to speak to the CEOs of the country’s four largest airlines, but none were available to discuss summer travel. Airlines said they had already cut their planned summer flights by 15% and were increasing hiring and training to try to meet growing demand.
On Thursday, Delta CEO Ed Bastian sent a letter to customers apologizing for the recent string of delays and cancellations.
Count Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg among the millions affected. “I had a meeting with all the airline executives about what they’re doing to prevent cancellations,” he told Van Cleave. “The next day I woke up in the morning, my flight was cancelled.”
“Is this the new normal, or is it going to get better?”
“It can’t be normal,” Buttigieg said. “We cannot have this number of cancellations and delays and accept it.”
“What is your message to the airlines? »
“We are counting on you, we are looking for you to provide the service corresponding to the tickets you have sold,” Buttigieg said. “The main thing is that they have to deliver.”
On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders called for fines of up to $55,000 per passenger if an airline cancels a flight due to understaffing.
Van Cleave asked, “Is the situation so bad that DOT should start fining airlines?”
“We’ve fined airlines when they haven’t refunded or treated customers well,” Buttigieg said.
“But not canceling a flight for staff?”
“Okay, so there are other authorities we can have and we’ll look into it, but what I’d rather do is just have a good result so we don’t even have to go. It is clear that the airline industry is not ready to meet public expectations, and that worries me.”
Van Cleave asked, “Whose fault?”
Buttigieg replied, “I’m not interested in the blame game; I want to make sure passengers can get to where they need to be.”
A record 42 million people are choosing to drive this weekend, but hitting the road comes with pain in the wallet. According to AAA, gasoline prices per gallon are on average $1.74 higher than a year ago.
Van Cleave asked Monte Kenney, who was fueling up at a Buc-ee in northwest Georgia in the middle of a 3,000-mile family road trip, “Why not fly?”
“It’s too expensive,” Kenney said, “and I have a wife and child with me, so to pay for all three would still be more than we spend.”
And those who spend to fly are not necessarily happy to land. Airline analyst Henry Harteveldt found that 74% of people who flew or plan to fly said they regretted their decision.
But he has some tips for finding friendlier skies: “Always take a nonstop flight where you can. Take the earliest morning flight you can catch. These are the least likely to be canceled or delayed.”
He also said to carry the light; checked baggage can complicate matters if you need to rebook.
But the most important thing: stay light. “If something is wrong, stay calm. But unfortunately what you have to assume with your summer trip is that something is wrong,” Harteveldt said. “And if not, be grateful and maybe buy a lottery ticket.”
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Story produced by John Goodwin, Young Kim and Julie Kracov. Publisher: Lauren Barnello.