Another airline service collapse is coming. It is not a question of “if” but rather of “when” it will happen. This can make past vacation flying problems seem like a small delay.
who talked? Say the experts. says the Federal Aviation Administration. He says everyone.
“There could be some pain ahead for summer travelers,” Mike Taylor, managing director at JD Power, warned. “Even with airlines taking precautions, basic industry infrastructure has not recovered from the pandemic. There is a shortage of pilots – and everyone wants to fly.”
Even the Federal Aviation Administration is sounding the alarm. This spring, when the agency renewed its waiver of takeoff and landing slots at the East Coast’s busiest airport, it predicted a 45% increase in delays at New York-area airports this summer compared to the same period last year. This looks to me like it broke down the entire summer.
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The American Travel Association expects this summer to be a “stress test” for the air travel regime. We already got a preview, says a recent study commissioned by the organization, with 35% of Americans reporting delays or cancellations in the past 12 months. It’s no wonder, then, that only about a third (32%) of new travelers are “very satisfied” with their air travel experience.
Even the airlines say things could go wrong. Many have scaled back their schedules, fearing they will not be able to operate all of their scheduled flights.
“Every major airline has warned of travel issues this summer due to staff shortages, potential weather and a lack of traffic control,” said Andrew Steinberg, OvationNetwork travel consultant.
Oh, did I forget to mention the lack of air traffic controller? Yes, there is one of those too. There are 10% fewer fully certified consoles than there were a decade ago.
But what are the prospects for a complete collapse of the system? What do air travelers do about it — and what should you do about it?
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How likely is another collapse of air travel this summer?
It is very likely. Although none of the experts I spoke with would give me the odds – they wouldn’t want to scare any clients off right now, would they? – They know that all the major ingredients are there for a breakdown.
Demand is growing, with searches for summer airfare up 25% compared to this time last year, according to Expedia.
“Airlines are still flying fewer flights than they did before the pandemic, which means flights will be full this summer,” Kristi Hudson, an Expedia spokeswoman, told me.
Add to that staffing problems and other potential technical issues that led to air travel’s woes last year. Airlines continue to use outdated technology that is vulnerable to breakdown. The pilot shortage is about to get exponentially worse in the United States right now, we have 8,000 pilots globally, but it will grow to nearly 30,000 pilots by 2032, according to a recent estimate. And there’s the problem with air traffic control that I already mentioned.
All you have to do is add a major thunderstorm or tornado to the mix, and boom! You’ll wish you could drive instead.
What airline passengers do before the summer travel season
You mean, besides panic?
I asked the customer service expert how he was planning to travel this summer. Chip Bell, a professional speaker and author, tells me he’s reluctantly booked a midsummer flight from Atlanta to New York for a cultural getaway—a week of theater, concerts, and museums.
Yes, the same New York where delays will increase by 45%.
“But I took precautions,” he added. “I will fly early in the morning and work with an experienced travel agent who is available 24/7 and can find alternative flights very quickly.”
And he has a Plan B in case the flights don’t depart: Amtrak. The train takes about 18 hours – which may be faster than flying.
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So what should you do about the summer travel crunch?
There are ways to avoid prolonged delays or disruption due to an airline downturn.
▶ Avoid airports and roads with a history of delays
Clear, right? But before you dismiss this advice, ask yourself: Did you know any Airports and roads are the most late? According to DOT data analyzed by Air Advisor, Chicago Midway, New York’s JFK and Denver had the highest percentage of delayed flights last summer (all around 60%).). The most delayed routes were JFK to Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale to Newark, and Charleston to LaGuardia. The average delay is between 65 and 70 minutes.
“It is reasonable to rely on the summer 2022 data as a means of making some assumptions for summer 2023,” said Anton Radchenko, founder of Air Advisor.
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▶ Use a real travel agent
A qualified human travel advisor can help you avoid the worst consequences of a meltdown. And if you happen to end up at a terminal station, they can get you home quickly. “A travel advisor can change flights instantly,” said Ashley Lees, a luxury travel consultant with Postcards From. This ensures that if there are any problems, so are you never On the phone with an airline.” Travel agents also have inside knowledge that ensures you don’t waste time standing in a long line or sleeping in a terminal.
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▶ Get travel insurance
Most travelers don’t think of a travel insurance policy as a must-have for a quick local getaway. But the next airline crash may prompt people to rethink that conventional wisdom. “The right travel insurance policy can provide reimbursement for the costs of extra meals, transportation, and accommodation with significant delays,” said Daniel Durazo, a spokesperson for Allianz Partners USA.
I have some coping mechanisms for crashing too. They include booking the first flight of the day (thanks, Chip). I also study my airline’s refund policies and keep the link to the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Rights page pointed to in my browser. I book a nonstop flight whenever possible, which reduces the chance of delays or disruption.
As a public service, I’ve also posted the names, numbers, and email addresses of airline executives on the consumer advocacy website, Elliott.org. If something goes wrong, you may want to send them an email to let them know you’re not satisfied. They may be able to solve the problem quickly.
But as someone who’s watched a lot of weatherslides, I can tell you that all the planning in the world won’t make a difference on a weekend during the summer when a wall of thunderstorms is moving toward the East Coast in slow motion. Bad things will happen.
Which brings me to the only foolproof way to avoid air travel disruption this summer. You probably already guessed it – don’t fly.
Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer issue, you can reach out to him here or email him at [email protected].
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