What to expect from air travel in the fall

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Ellie and Ryan Weseloh feel lucky to have escaped the worst of what summer has brought for air travellers.

They haven’t completely circumvented flight cancellations and delays. Air travel nearly took its toll on a large gathering as other family members struggled to cross the country, and some eventually gave up and traveled long distances to get to the gathering, a- they stated. But the Weselohs’ flight was successful, and cancellations and delays on other international and domestic flights the Chicago couple took this summer have been kept to a minimum.

Still, they’re rethinking the trip for a family wedding this fall. Their concern now is the high price of hotel and airfare.

The busy summer season was again marked by travelers eager to get out after years of delayed travel, but also by high prices, canceled flights and delays that left passengers sitting in airports or on the tarmac. As another holiday weekend approaches, followed by the generally slower fall travel season, airlines and travelers are adjusting their habits and expectations.

Major carriers are hiring and adjusting their schedules, facing not only their own staff shortages, but also staffing limitations at airports and air traffic control towers that they say are causing problems. Whether these measures are enough to improve service could determine how many passengers are willing to continue flying, as an uncertain economy looms and pent-up demand from the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.

“I’m very concerned that if the airlines don’t do a better job as we head into the fall, they will dampen passenger demand for the holiday season,” said Henry Harteveldt, analyst at the travel industry and president of Atmosphere Research Group.

More cancellations and delays are common in the summer, when unpredictable weather can keep planes grounded. Still, the summer has been tough for travelers.

A higher share of flights nationwide were canceled or delayed in June, July and August compared to the pre-pandemic summer of 2019, according to FlightAware. Flight delays out of O’Hare International Airport hovered around 23% during the summer months – compared to around 24% nationally – and at Midway International Airport between 38% and 41% flights have been delayed.

At the same time, passengers were paying more for their flights: 34% more in June than a year earlier and 28% more in July, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More and more back-to-back weather systems pose challenges for airlines, and the key to their ability to recover from those systems is reserves of personnel, flight crews and equipment, Harteveldt said. Even as airlines are hiring to replenish their workforce, some are cutting schedules in the fall to create more of a buffer, including in Chicago, where United and American airlines operate major hubs in O’Hare.

While this should help airline operations, the downside for travelers is that it could mean less convenient flights and higher airfares as capacity remains lower than it might otherwise be, he said. -he declares.

In many cases, flights are consolidated, which would have a limited effect on passengers, said Mike Arnot, industry commentator and spokesman for aeronautical data firm Cirium.

“That said, some smaller routes between hubs and smaller towns are eliminated entirely,” he said. “At O’Hare, American has reduced capacity between there and destinations like Dallas, Cincinnati and Cleveland.”

In a statement, an American Airlines spokesperson said such adjustments are an integral part of planning, as schedules are released nearly a year in advance and then adjusted as executives airlines make operational decisions.

“Of course, we’re going to do things to make sure we’re running the airline as reliably as possible and also accommodating more extreme variability in operating conditions,” CEO Robert Isom said during an interview. a conference call with analysts and reporters in July. “We do that by reducing the schedule a bit as we go into the third quarter. But we hope that all the work we have done will put us in a position where we can restore service, get back to the rhythm as quickly as possible.

Airlines have stepped up hiring this year, which will also likely help the fall in travel, especially with long lines at airports, Harteveldt said. But carriers face tough hiring markets, training time and a lack of veteran employees as new hires are recruited, he said.

Airlines have faced a shortage of pilots since before the pandemic, but this year also hired thousands to work in maintenance, airports and other roles. Chicago-based United has hired 1,000 people for local positions this year and aims to add 300 more as the carrier considers its schedule next spring, company executives said.

“The idea is to train them,” said Omar Idris, United vice-chairman at O’Hare. “It’s a long training window, there’s a lot of time, there are background checks that need to take place. There are skills to be learned. So we want those employees that we hire today , in late summer and early fall, be fully prepared for spring break and summer.

At a recent job fair in the atrium of the United Center, company representatives interviewed candidates for baggage handlers, cargo loaders and similar positions and offered jobs on the spot. They screened potential flight attendants, who would have to apply and then undergo extensive training, and recruited for positions in head office, aircraft maintenance and customer service.

On one side of the atrium, United-affiliated vendors were also hiring for positions at a catering company and to provide wheelchair service at the airport.

United were happy with their company’s staffing levels this summer after recruiting efforts earlier in the year, but saw challenges in staffing for support areas like catering and cabin cleaning, Idris said. United also cited air traffic control staffing as a reason for the delays.

But at O’Hare, Idris said United’s punctuality this summer was better than before the pandemic. He attributed it in part to the end of a 16-year track construction project, which freed up additional tracks for use.

There could be more good news for travelers. Although higher than the previous year, airfares began to decline in June and July compared to previous months.

Some of this is typical, as fares are often cheaper in the fall than during the peak summer months. But Scott Keyes, founder of the Scott’s Cheap Flights website, expects fares to return closer to some sort of normal as oil prices fall and pent-up demand among holidaymakers gives way to shock. stickers.

“This pent-up demand is, ultimately, discretionary,” he said.

So far, demand for the fall still seems strong, according to Paul Jacobs, general manager and vice president of Kayak North America. Searches for domestic and international flights are still higher than they were last year, according to data provided by the travel website. In Chicago, more people are searching for domestic flights to the city, but searches from Chicago to another US city are down.

“Everything indicates that consumers still want to travel. The demand is strong,” he said. “Are they frustrated? I’m sure they are, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of places people still want to go and still take a lot of makeup trips.

A survey by the Harteveldt Atmosphere Research Group earlier this summer cast doubt on holidaymakers’ continued willingness to travel. Of 1,770 leisure travelers asked how likely they would be traveling for Thanksgiving and Christmas, based on delays and cancellations up to that time, 17% said they were less likely.

Harteveldt does not expect the 17% to give up flying for the fall and winter holidays, but he fears that the lack of service improvements could lead to a sharp drop in passenger numbers. Labor Day weekend performances will be a signal of what’s to come, he said.

Already, cancellations and delays this summer have Molly Kastner wondering if the company she works with will adjust the way it handles customers’ fall trips, she said as she walked into O’Hare for business.

When the New Jersey Blueberry she works with held an event in Kansas City in July, several attendees were unable to attend due to flight issues. In some cases, by the time they could get a new reservation, the short two-hour event was over.

She wonders if this fall the company will have to fly in customers a day earlier to ensure they can arrive.

“To be proactive with it,” she said. “I just expect delays.”

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