The airlines had said they were prepared to avoid service problems that have plagued much of the industry last year. But between Friday and Monday, US airlines canceled 2,653 flights, or roughly 3% of their mass schedules, according to tracking service FlightAware. That’s more than they canceled on the same weekend in the previous three years combined.
In 2019, the year before the pandemic, US airlines canceled just 1.2% of their scheduled flights, despite having an additional 6,600 flights on the schedule.
The experts said passengers were right to be nervous because they would see more of the same for the rest of the summer.
“This does not bode well for the summer travel season, as we expect to repeat it during the summer months as the number of travelers increases,” Helen Baker, Cowen’s airline analyst, said in a note to clients on Tuesday. “This was an opportunity for the airlines to show that the delay last summer will not be repeated this summer, however, it was not.”
Airlines have far fewer employees, especially pilots, than they did before the pandemic. They received $54 billion in taxpayer assistance during the height of the health crisis to prevent forced layoffs, but most airlines have offered takeovers and early retirement packages to cut staff and save cash while air traffic is virtually grounded. But it takes years to get certified for pilots and some other airline employees.
So airlines operate with little room for error when they encounter bad weather, air traffic control or staff communication problems They came out sick, which they said happened this weekend.
“More than at any time in our history, the various factors currently affecting our operations — weather and air traffic control, vendor personnel, increased Covid case rates contributing to higher-than-planned unscheduled absences in some work groups — have led to a process that has led to a process of , Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, said in an online post: “It does not consistently meet the standards that Delta has set for the industry in recent years.”
“When you stress about testing the airline’s operating model, that’s when you see the same results,” said a trader. With flights already booked to capacity, a trader added, “Not only does canceling one flight create a cascade effect, it causes a tidal wave of problems. It’s deja vu all over again.”
With planes as full as ever, airlines may take more time to find passengers booked on canceled flights. Another seat to reach their destination, said the merchant. Also, call centers are understaffed and overwhelmed with demand, especially when things go wrong as they did this weekend.
“You can wait hours on the phone to rebook a flight more than the flight takes,” he said.
Staff shortages also mean higher prices
The staff shortage means that US airlines are still unable to provide all the flights needed to meet demand. U.S. domestic flight capacity in June, July and August of this year is 5% less than it was in those months of 2019, according to Cirium, an aviation analytics company.
But passengers, especially vacationers, are keen to travel again this summer. Several airlines have reported record numbers of customers booking flights earlier this summer.
“There is a mismatch between supply and demand,” said Scott Keys, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flight, a flight booking site. “Your hopes of getting cheap flights for the summer are little or no.”
This combination of standard demand and a limited supply of seats means much higher prices. The Consumer Price Index, the government’s reading of inflation, shows that prices in April were 33% higher than a year ago and 10.6% higher than they were in April 2019.
The situation for leisure travelers may be worse than these numbers suggest because commercial and international travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Since these commuters pay higher prices than more price-sensitive domestic travelers, going on vacation is a lot more expensive than it used to be.
And it’s not just airline tickets that are the most expensive.
The shortage of available cars resulted in car rental prices in April increasing by 70% compared to April 2019. Prices for hotels and other accommodations increased by 20% in April compared to last year, and by 10.6% from what they were in April 2019. All of these increases in Prices are weighted to speed up more during the busy summer travel months.
Experts believe that price pressures will begin to subside after the dip – but not before then.
“The massive increase in demand, I think we’ll probably run out of that this summer,” said Hayley Berg, chief economist at Huber, another travel booking site. “That, combined with the natural stagnation in demand that we see in September and October, will likely mean lower prices.”
But she said it’s a good idea to book a trip for the year-end holiday season if you already know your plans. The same dynamic of strong demand and lower supply is likely to repeat thereafter.