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It’s a travel season like no other.
Anyone looking for a summer getaway risks finding themselves caught in a chaotic web of canceled flights, expensive rental cars or full hotels. The prospect of getting from point A to point B without an expensive headache can seem nearly impossible.
Consider this: On Wednesday, 639 flights within, to or from the United States were canceled and 5,837 were delayed, according to FlightAware flight tracking data.
Delta Air Lines alone cut about 100 flights a day from its July schedule to ‘minimize disruption’ and issued a waiver for July 4 travelers as it prepares for passenger volumes ‘not seen since before the pandemic.
Renting a car – if you can find one – will probably cost you more than in years past. And hotel prices are also climbing across the country. So much for relaxation.
Your summer travel troubles are (probably) not your fault. In the sky, airlines have far fewer employees, especially pilots, than before the pandemic. And down the road, a shortage of available vehicles has driven rental car prices into double digits.
Add record inflation to remarkable demand for leisure travel and you have a recipe for trouble.
Much of this turbulence can be attributed to Covid-19.
It starts with demand. Airlines and hotels are planning record travel this summer as Americans who delayed travel during the pandemic resume their vacations.
The request responds to a shortage of personnel. Although airlines received $54 billion in federal aid during the peak of Covid to avoid involuntary layoffs, they have fewer employees after offering buyouts and early retirement packages to cut staff and save money. the money.
Lack of staff creates problems. As a result, operations can quickly collapse in the event of bad weather, understaffed air traffic control centers or sick staff.
Then there is inflation. The Consumer Price Index, the government’s main measure of inflation, estimates that overall fares rose 37.8% in May from a year earlier, and 21.7% from May 2019, before the pandemic.
Remember that amid the outbreak, the Federal Reserve rolled out emergency stimulus measures to prevent financial markets from collapsing. The central bank cut interest rates to near zero and began pumping tens of billions of dollars into the markets every month by buying up corporate debt.
By doing so, the bank likely avoided a financial collapse. But maintaining these easy money policies has also fueled inflation, which is why your plane ticket is much more expensive than before.
Rental cars also have a pandemic problem. At the height of the pandemic, the industry sold more than half a million cars, about a third of their combined fleets, just to generate the cash they needed to survive the crisis. After a year of steep losses, rental car companies have struggled to rebuild their fleets to keep up with demand, leading to sky-high prices before they even fill up.
Hotels too. You also won’t feel much relief when you reach your destination. Remember the problem of pent-up travel demand? This crashes into a limited number of places to stay and results in sky-high prices.
The rate for an average hotel room is 23% higher than last year, according to AAA.
Earlier this month, Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged airline executives in a private conversation to review their flight schedules and take other steps to lessen the impact of summer flight cancellations , a source familiar with the call told CNN’s Gregory Wallace.
The source said Buttigieg asked the CEOs to discuss plans to prevent and respond to disruptions over the July 4 holiday weekend and beyond.
American airlines want you to know they are trying. Airlines for America, the group representing major U.S. airlines, told CNN in a statement on Thursday that it was doing “everything to ensure a smooth journey this weekend.”
“U.S. airlines are facing a range of challenges — including weather and staffing at the carrier and federal government levels — and are doing everything they can to help ensure a smooth trip this weekend and throughout the year. ‘year. As always, we are working closely with the federal government to address challenges, including inclement weather, so adjustments to schedules can be made and carriers can contact travelers as soon as possible,” the statement read.
The group’s member airlines are taking different approaches to reduce flight disruption in the summer, including reducing the number of flights and allowing passengers to book free of charge during off-peak periods.
Yet critics say airlines should have anticipated many of these issues ahead of the summer travel season.
Read this article by aviation journalist John Walton.
He writes: In almost all cases, the problem is that too many experienced people have been laid off during the pandemic – either laid off or voluntarily laid off – and that airlines, airports and other key parts of the aviation system are not working. haven’t hired and qualified enough people. to replace them.
This qualifying point is important. As airlines and airports know all too well, it takes quite a process to get someone the kind of security pass that allows them to work on a plane or at an airport gate.
In other words, travel is going to be tough for a while.
If you have summer travel plans, you’re not doomed. CNN’s travel team has put together some handy tips that will help you get to your destination if that means flying.
The sooner the better. Taking a flight that departs early in the day helps avoid the cascading effect of delays and cancellations. Bad weather is also more likely to affect subsequent flights.
Plan cushion time for must-see events. Do not travel on the day of a major event such as a wedding. Plan to arrive at least a day in advance.
Ask for a hotel voucher if your flight is cancelled. If you can’t fly the same day, it’s worth asking for meal or hotel vouchers. In many cases, such as weather events, airlines are not required to provide them, but it is worth asking.
Most importantly, stay alert. Don’t blame your frustration on customer service employees. They do not make operational decisions.
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