Summer travel in 2022 was chaotic, will this year be any different?


Airlines expect another busy summer for travel, but this year could bring important changes from the chaotic 2022 summer vacation season.

After a year of soaring demand, high fares, cancellations and delays, a more quintessential air travel experience could appear in flyers, industry insiders said. Airlines often create flight schedules to more reliably operate with available staff. Demand and domestic air fares, while still high, are likely to level out.

However, the upcoming summer travel season is not without its challenges. Demand for international flights is soaring as travelers find traveling to Europe and Asia to be more comfortable, and the prices of international air tickets are also rising. And airlines continue to face staffing pressure.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year,” American Airlines Chief Executive Robert Isom told analysts during its first-quarter earnings call in late April. “Let’s face it, the summer of 2022 was pretty eventful.”

Hailey Berg, chief economist at travel app Hopper, said summer is always a season of flight delays and cancellations, but she expects this summer to be less disruptive than 2022. The airline went over schedule last summer but has since hired employees and created more manageable flight plans, she said.

“We expect a normal level of disruption, not the incredible disruption of last year,” she said.

Among the challenges airlines grappled with in the summer of 2022 were restrictions on staffing their own, airports and air traffic control towers as travelers eager to return home after pandemic shutdowns. Airlines are facing a shortage of pilots and are scrambling to hire thousands for maintenance, airport and other roles.

But staffing remains a challenge despite increased airline operations this summer. Several airlines have agreed to reduce schedules in New York this summer, following an FAA request for a critical shortage of air traffic controllers at a major Long Island facility.

Southwest Airlines executives said on their first-quarter earnings call that the company’s fleet was underutilized because it could not hire enough pilots. He expects the problem to turn into an aircraft shortage later this year as Boeing delays aircraft deliveries.

Earlier this year, Southwest Airlines was still recovering from a busy December holiday season, but the airline struggled to catch up after winter storms, canceling thousands of flights and reducing schedules. The creation software just couldn’t keep up with the airline’s complex situation. The aviation network became unstable after a series of weather-related cancellations began.

Katie Nastro, a spokeswoman for travel company Going, said the experience, last summer’s challenges and high airfares could leave an aftertaste in travelers’ mouths. But this summer seems to be improving, she said.

A jet plane soars past the faint sun as it departs O'Hare International Airport in Chicago May 16, 2023. Smoke from wildfires in Canada has dimmed the sun this week.

Airlines are anticipating strong demand from travelers. Chicago-based United Airlines forecasts Memorial Day weekend to be its busiest in more than a decade, with about 2.9 million travelers between May 25 and May 30. are expected to use the airline. Friday, May 26, is expected to be the busiest day of the holiday, and O’Hare International Airport is expected to be one of United Airlines’ three busiest airports that weekend.

American Airlines expects July 28 to be its busiest day of the summer, estimating 6,000 departures will be in service at that time.

“We’re not as strong as we were in 2022 when ‘revenge travel’ really made a comeback, especially on the leisure side,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in the company’s first-quarter earnings call in April. Stated. “But the demand is very strong, strong across the board.”

In particular, there is a high demand for overseas travel. At United Airlines, international flights will account for 46% of the airline’s capacity this summer, up from 43% in 2019.

That means air fares for passengers are likely to vary. The average domestic ticket price this summer is about $300, up from 2019 but down 19% from last summer’s high, Hopper said.

But prices for international flights are “incredibly expensive,” Berg said. Airfares to Europe are up 37% from both 2022 and pre-pandemic prices, he said, while airfares to Asia are up 60% from the most recent comparable year of 2019. .

Kayla Insella, a consumer travel expert at Kayak, a travel company, said one factor driving this trend is the persistent demand for international travel. While domestic travel was strong in 2022, international travel remains a challenge, with tourists looking to travel again now that restrictions have eased.

Travel trends could bring good news for Chicago. The city is among the top 10 most searched destinations in the country, according to both Hopper and Kayak.

The summer travel season is upon us as some of the major Chicago-based airlines battle pressure from pilots’ unions. Southwest pilots overwhelmingly approved the strike, and United pilots have recently been picketing in line to seek new contracts.

Travelers line up for security at Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport on May 18, 2023.

But pilots are less likely to go on strike during the busy summer travel season. Federal law makes it difficult for unions to go on strike in the airline industry, and the last time a U.S. airline went on strike was more than a decade ago.

Garth Thompson, president of the United chapter of the Airline Pilots Association, said the airline’s pilots have been negotiating new contracts for nearly five years. They want a better quality of life, stronger rules governing job turnover and higher wages, he said.

At Southwest Airlines, union president Casey Murray said the union is not taking the sanction vote lightly, but customers are “preparing for the road ahead and looking to other airlines to ensure their plans for the summer and fall are uninterrupted.” We have to make arrangements with the company,” he said. He lashed out at the “lack of leadership and unwillingness to deal with organizational failure.”

Southwest Airlines said in a statement also earlier in May that the approval vote would not affect its scheduled operations and that the airline “has staff and readiness to welcome travelers for their summer travel plans.” ‘ said.

American Airlines pilots also voted to approve the strike, but on Friday the pilots and the airline announced they had reached an agreement in principle over a new contract. The agreement will need to be finalized and voted on by union members, but the existence of the proposal will alleviate some of the grievances within the organization, union spokesman Dennis Tager said.

“This will calm the high seas for the time being, but hopefully this will continue if member states approve it,” he said.

Some U.S. pilots have called for changes to flight schedules, which the union said would allow airlines to plan more in advance, have a better work-life balance and operate more reliably.

No details of the deal or proposed salary increases have been announced yet, Mr Tagel said, but negotiators believed the deal met the pilots’ demands. He said the proposal would also allow Delta to set a market rate for its pilots’ salaries, which raised salaries by 34% over four years in an agreement reached earlier this year.

American Airlines executives said in a statement that pilots and other staff “should be paid well and competitively,” adding that the deal “will provide our pilots with salaries and profit sharing that are comparable to industry leaders.” It is about providing a better quality of life,” he said. ”

For many years, airline workers did not go on strike, but at any rate, their work behavior disrupted operations.federal judge fined the pilots union of american airlines He was paid $45 million for a 1999 illness that disrupted airline operations, but the amount was later reduced. In 2019, a federal judge ordered a union representing American Airlines aircraft mechanics to stop what the company called illegal. work slows down.

United Airlines’ Thompson said the pilots had no plans to disrupt operations this summer but would continue to picket and could vote on strike approval if negotiations do not progress.

“We are certainly not happy with the pace of the negotiations, the position and the length of the negotiations, but we will not impose that on our passengers,” he said.

Contributed by Associated Press.

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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