Ellie and Ryan Weseloh are lucky to have escaped the worst of what summer has brought to air travellers.
Flight cancellations and delays could not be completely avoided. Air travel wreaked havoc on large reunions as other families struggled to move around the country, with some eventually giving up and driving long distances to the assembly. The flight arrived safely, with minimal cancellations or delays on other international and domestic flights the Chicago couple took on this summer.
Still, they’re rethinking a trip to their family’s wedding this fall.
After years of travel delays, the busy summer season has seen passengers forced to sit at airports and tarmacs trying to get out again with high prices, canceled flights and delays. With the end of the year weekend approaching and then the fall travel season generally slowing down, airlines and travelers are adjusting their habits and expectations.
Major airlines are adjusting hiring and schedules, citing not only their own staffing shortages but also staffing limits at airports and air traffic control towers. Whether these measures are sufficient to improve service will depend on how many passengers will continue to fly as an uncertain economy looms and pent-up demand from the COVID-19 pandemic wanes. may decide.
Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, said:
More cancellations and delays are common in the summer when planes can keep landing due to unpredictable weather.
According to FlightAware, June, July and August had higher rates of flight cancellations or delays nationwide than in the pre-pandemic summer of 2019. During the summer, delays for flights out of O’Hare International Airport hovered around 23%, compared to around 24% nationally, and between 38% and 41% of flights at Midway International Airport. I’m late.
At the same time, 34% more passengers paid for flights in June and 28% more in July than a year earlier, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Harteveldt said more continuous weather systems are posing challenges for airlines, and staff, crew and equipment reserves are key to the ability to recover from these systems. Airlines are hiring to rebuild their workforces, but schedules for the fall to build more buffers, including Chicago, where United and American Airlines operate major hubs in O’Hare. Some airlines are downsizing.
That should help airlines operate, but the downside for travelers is that they have less capacity than they would otherwise, making flights less convenient and potentially more expensive.
In many cases, flights are consolidated and the impact on passengers is limited, said Mike Arnott, an industry commentator and spokesperson for aviation data firm Sirium.
“That said, some smaller routes between hubs and smaller cities have been completely phased out,” he said. “At O’Hare, American Airlines has reduced capacity to and from destinations such as Dallas, Cincinnati and Cleveland.”
In a statement, an American Airlines spokeswoman said such adjustments are a typical part of planning, with schedules published almost a year in advance and tweaked as airline executives make operational decisions. be adjusted.
Chief Executive Officer Robert Isom said in a July earnings call with analysts and reporters, “Of course, we will operate our airlines as reliably as possible, taking into account the extreme volatility of operating conditions. “We’re doing it by pulling back the schedule a little bit as we go into the third quarter. I hope we can get back to speed.”
Airlines have increased their adoption this year, which will likely also help with travel, especially in the fall, when there are long lines at airports, Harteveldt said. But careers are facing a difficult recruiting market, training time and a shortage of veteran employees, he said.
Airlines, which have faced pilot shortages even before the pandemic, have hired thousands of people this year to work in maintenance, airports and elsewhere. It has hired and is looking to add another 300 to its schedule next spring, executives said.
O’Hare United Vice President Omar Idris said: “There are long training periods, long lead times, and background checks. There are proficiencies that must be learned. I hope you are as best prepared as possible.”
At a recent job fair in the atrium of the United Center, company representatives interviewed candidates for baggage handlers, cargo loaders, and similar roles and offered jobs on the spot. They screened potential flight attendants who had to undergo lengthy training after applying and were recruiting for roles in headquarters, aircraft maintenance, and customer service.
On one side of the atrium, vendors affiliated with United were also recruiting for roles in catering companies and to provide airport wheelchair service.
United was happy with the company’s staffing levels this summer after conducting a hiring drive earlier in the year, but had issues with staffing support areas such as catering and cabin cleaning, Idris said. Stated. United Airlines also cited air traffic control staffing as the reason for the delay.
But Idris at O’Hare said United’s on-time performances this summer were better than they were before the pandemic. He believes the end of the 16-year runway construction project was one of the reasons, as well as the availability of additional runways.
There may be better news for travelers. Airfares, although higher than the previous year, began to decline in June and July compared to the months before it.
Part of that is typical, as fares are often cheaper in the fall than during peak summer travel. But Scott Keyes, founder of the website Scott’s Cheap Flights, said that as oil prices fell and pent-up demand among holidaymakers gave way to sticker shocks, fares were becoming a kind of normal. is expected to approach
“That pent-up demand is ultimately discretionary,” he said.
So far, fall demand remains strong, according to Paul Jacobs, general manager and vice president of Kayak North America. Searches for domestic and international flights are still higher than last year, according to data provided by travel websites. In Chicago, more people are searching for domestic flights to Chicago, but fewer searches from Chicago to other US cities.
“All signs are that consumers still want to travel. Demand is high,” he said. “Are they frustrated? Yes they may be, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of places people still want to go.
A survey conducted by Harteveldt’s Atmosphere Research Group earlier in the summer cast doubt on travelers’ continued willingness to travel. Of the 1,770 leisure travelers asked how likely they would be to travel on Thanksgiving and Christmas based on previous delays and cancellations, 17% said no.
Harteveldt doesn’t believe the 17% of passengers won’t fly for the fall and winter holidays, but he fears a sharp decline in passenger numbers if services aren’t improved. Labor Day weekend’s performance, he said, will be one signal of what’s to come.
Molly Kastner wonders if the company she works for will adjust how it handles customers’ fall travel due to cancellations and delays this summer.
When the New Jersey-based blueberry farm she works with held an event in Kansas City in July, some attendees were unable to attend due to flight issues. In some cases, short 2 hour events were over by the time we were able to rebook.
She suspects that customers will have to fly out a day earlier this fall to ensure they arrive.
“Be proactive about it,” she said. “I just hope I’m late.”