Warnings signs over the last week suggest that the busy summer travel season is shaping up to be even more rocky than last year in terms of airline operational performance. Brace yourselves for a summer of travel misery.
The Ultimate Summer Of Travel Misery Is Coming: How To Prepare
Last fall, optimism abounded that 2022 would mark a banner year of recovery for the worldwide airline industry. Even when the omicron variant broke and the world punitively reacted to it, bookings for spring and summer 2022 remained strong.
Enthusiastic airlines, looking to make up for lost ground, loaded ambitious schedules that relied upon many assumptions including hiring more staff and even the wether cooperating.
But over the last few weeks we’ve seen that the U.S. airline industry often resembles a house of cards more than a house built upon a rock.
Seasonal storms in Florida led to a mini-meltdown at JetBlue last weekend. We’ve seen American Airlines and Southwest Airlines cancel hundreds of flights at the last minute and Spirit Airlines also was forced to cancel over a quarter of its flights last weekend (though it was a far cry from its near-collapse last summer). Even Delta and United have not been immune, particularly when it comes to flights operated by SkyWest, a regional partner for both carriers.
Chronic pilot shortages continue to adversely impact operations, with SkyWest now in a near-impossible position as it seeks to scale back schedules but has been denied doing so by U.S. regulators.
My point is not to scare you, but to help prepare you. I predict this summer is going to be a mess, with frequent reports of delays, cancellations, and even meltdowns. Even as carriers attempt to proactively reduce schedules in order to leave slack for inevitable storms and other complications, it really is not enough.
And there’s another issue: the latest strain of coronavirus, though not lethal, is fairly contagious and we’ve seen a surge in sick calls relating to COVID-19. Sadly, even as the pandemic morphs into an endemic, COVID-19 will be with us for a very long time.
Flexibility Is Key – My Tips For Dealing With Summer Travel Delays
Vacations can be particularly difficult in the USA. With limited vacation time, every minute matters and there is often little room for error to squeeze a vacation out of a limited period away from work.
Even so, the best thing you can ever do to take control of your travel experience is to be flexible and recognize that delays will occur. When you plan for it in advance, it even becomes more manageable (at least emotionally) when inevitable delays or cancellations occur. That’s often half the battle.
Many of you will face “irregular operations” this summer that will delay your flights. When that happens, your first objective should be to get yourself rebooked immediately.
Picture the game like that of musical chairs. Flight will run full this summer, as they historically do, and when one flight cancels and everyone is booted off, there is a mad rush for those remaining chairs on other flights. Some are inevitably left out.
Keep a close eye on your flights and ensure you have the latest version of your airlines’ mobile app installed. When disaster strikes, this will position you to rebook yourself most quickly if the system does not do so for you.
Those who wait on the phone or wait in line at airports may find their options more limited or their waiting times for their next flight much longer.
Second, once you are re-booked, don’t stop checking. Delays or cancellations essentially make your ticket, even if restricted, fully flexible. Book whatever you can get, but you can improve upon it, many times even, based upon dynamic space that opens and shuts with surprising frequency.
If you are booked to your destination on a connecting flight and encounter a delay or cancellation, use such an event to push to be rebooked on a nonstop flight. Some airlines will still even book you on other airlines. It does not hurt to ask.
I’m not optimistic this will be a smooth summer of air travel. Quite the contrary, I think it will be even worse than last year. Even so, you can prepare for it by adding padding to your schedule, when possible, and moving quickly with the technological tools available to you when your flight is delayed or canceled.
Remember, take what you can get and improve upon it – better to have a rebooked itinerary that is not ideal than no itinerary at all. Most of all, expect the worst and hopefully be surprised!