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Fall Air Travel: This Labor Day and Beyond

(CNN) — Summer air travel has been tried, to say the least. Terrible, many travelers would say.

About 55,000 flights have been canceled in the US 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.

A “huge problem of staffing shortages” has plagued all air travel this season and so far in 2022, said Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokeswoman for FlightAware. rice field.

Bangs tends to cast doubt on airlines in their efforts to ramp up pre-pandemic flight schedules with 2022 staffing challenges.

“I think they really thought they would have enough employees coming back and hiring enough new employees to meet demand, but as we’ve seen, they don’t think so. I didn’t,” Bangs said.

Weather and air traffic controller staffing issues added to the chaos of the summer.

But some industry experts are cautiously optimistic about air travel this Labor Day weekend, predicting a smoother fall travel season.

According to travel app Hopper, 12.6 million passengers are expected to depart U.S. airports over the holiday weekend. Hopper predicts Thursday and Friday will be the busiest days. It will be busy on Monday as tourists return home.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched a new online dashboard where passengers can find comparative information about what each of the major U.S. airlines offers passengers in the event of delays or cancellations due to factors within the airline’s control. Posted.

Expectations for Labor Day Weekend

Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, an airline ticket and travel advice site, recently told CNN Travel that during Labor Day weekend, travelers will spend Memorial Day weekend early in the summer. He said he expects less disruption to flights than in the United States.

“Looking back over the summer, there have been two major holiday travel periods. Memorial Day was a terribly bogged down time for air travel, with widespread delays and cancellations making it a nightmare for many travelers. …and it was the 4th of July weekend where travel disruption was minimal,” Keys said.

He predicts that Labor Day weekend will be closer to the 4th of July.

“I think the reason is that there are fewer travelers overall on Labor Day than on Memorial Day,” he said. ”

Also, if the weather and staffing are not ideal, the domino effect is less likely. According to FlightAware, by 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, about 1,600 flights inside and outside the United States had been delayed. Thousands of delays per day are the norm this summer.About 160 flights canceled by 1pm

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

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

John Nacion/Starmax/AP

The “perfect” trip into autumn

Bangs said airlines have cut summer schedules by about 15%. This, she said, is one of the main reasons she hasn’t seen an increase in the number of delays and cancellations.

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

A significant reduction in schedules has already begun for the fall, and demand typically drops as children return to school, Bangs said.

More than 52,000 flights have been removed from US airlines’ fall schedules, including more than 30,000 American Airlines flights, she said.

“Travel should be optimal through September and October, as demand will drop so airline schedules won’t be under the same level of stress that we saw in the summer,” Bangs said.

And there’s a reason people are rooting for the price now.

Hopper experts recently confirmed that airfares within the US in September and October were down 37% compared to peak summer airfares.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on and bargaining for attractive holiday fares. “Airfares will rise sharply heading into Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Haley Berg, chief economist at Hopper.

Bangs also noted that prices fell by a third in many city pairs in September and October.

“With the reduced number of seats planned for the fall, anyone considering traveling in September and October, or even early November, should buy their discounted tickets now.

Bangs expects holiday season fares to drop in September and October and then rise.

Travelers wait at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York on July 1, 2022.

Travelers wait at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York on July 1, 2022.

Angus Mordaunt/Bloomberg/Getty Images

What about vacation trips later this year?

Bangs said airlines will be fully prepared for the 2022 Thanksgiving and Christmas season “when they bring their staffing levels back to 2019 levels or even beyond.” Told.

She also noted that illness will hit airlines very hard from the 2021 Christmas season through January, and this fall, the spread of Covid variants and seasonal viruses such as the flu will lead to employee absenteeism. He said he expected it to affect

“Airlines look better positioned for the 2021 Thanksgiving and holiday travel season than they did last year,” Bangs said.

Of course, the weather is a wild card. Last Thanksgiving went well, “in part because the weather was so good across his 48 contiguous states.”

Shaping the outlook for air travel

Addressing US air travel issues is a very ongoing work.

In addition to pressuring airlines to be more transparent about passenger rights, the DOT has proposed new rules to strengthen airline passenger protections. The proposal is open for public comment.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg recently told CNN’s Kate Balduan, “I understand there will never be zero cancellations. Somewhere there’s a storm, somewhere there’s a surprise, somewhere There will be problems,” he said.

“But we need a stronger system. We expect the airlines that make money by selling tickets to be ready to service the tickets they sell.”

The US pilot shortage isn’t going away anytime soon, Bangs said.

“The fall months may seem less of an issue, with lower demand, better weather and fewer flights overall. But new pilots can only be created with a long schedule.” she said.

There’s also a shortage of mechanics and technicians, Bangs said, although they’re less visible to the general public.

Buttigieg acknowledged that the Federal Aviation Administration also has staffing issues to address, but airlines still account for much of the recent disruption to air travel.

“We have seen staffing challenges for air traffic control, particularly in the New York area and Florida airspace, largely due to the hole the pandemic has torn in the training pipeline,” he said. .

More strategies to come

While we wait and hope for smoother travel, here are some tips for navigating the skies now and in the weeks and months ahead.

Take the earliest possible flight: “The sooner you book your flight, the more likely it will go smoothly, as the weather tends to be better in the morning than in the afternoon,” says Keyes. “But also because there is no risk of canceling the domino effect.”

Mimicking experienced business travelers: “They have TSA prechecks. They download the airline app to their phones,” says Bangs. The FlightAware app also helps inform travelers of flight changes.

Direct flights: Bangs and Keyes suggested booking direct flights with connecting flights whenever possible. For the extra expense, it might be worth it.

Do not check baggage: “If your flight is delayed, rescheduled, or you need to miss a connection, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to find your bag in the fuselage of the plane,” Keys said.

Ask for whatever you can get: The airline’s revised policy (see link above) aims to make your rights clearer if your flight is interrupted.

You can also request other accommodations, such as free flight vouchers or deposit miles into your frequent flyer account, Bangs said.

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

Above: Travelers line up to enter security at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 1, 2022. (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

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