Crowds of 4th of July travelers get a reprieve as cancellations dwindle
The largest crowds of July 4 vacationers since the COVID-19 pandemic jostled at U.S. airports over the weekend, keeping stress on an already beleaguered transportation system.
The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 4.65 million passengers on Friday and Saturday, about 2.7% more than in 2019’s pre-COVID-19 pandemic era. Some 16,000 flights were delayed at inside, to or from the United States since Friday, Flightaware.com reported as of 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday.
Even so, the numbers could have been worse: only around 1,500 flights were canceled outright over the three days, including 260 from midday on Sunday – largely in line with recent performance. There were no lasting complications from weather conditions, a brief safety evacuation from Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, or a temporary software glitch at American Airlines Group Inc. that allowed pilots to remove thousands of flight hours from their July schedules.
As many as 12.3 million people are expected to pass through airport security between June 30 and July 4, according to DePaul University’s Chaddick Air Travel Bulletin – about 8% more than the weekend of Memorial Day in May, the traditional kick-off of the summer-travel season.
READ MORE: 4th of July travelers face canceled flights, crowded airports and higher fares
Passengers have been told to shell out steep prices for tickets despite the growing likelihood of hassles as airlines try to make a profit amid rising costs. Domestic fares are expected to average $437 round-trip, the highest in five years, according to travel app Hopper Inc., while out-of-country flights cost an average of $1,200, up 31% from compared to before the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, the summer of 2022 is going to be very unpleasant for far too many air passengers,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder and travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.
U.S. carriers are eager to show they can be reliable in times of high demand, but are struggling to cope with travelers returning to the skies after two years of COVID-19 thwarting summer plans. The airlines met with Biden administration officials last week to plan for the days ahead.
From May 27 to June 30, the seven largest US airlines cut 2.7% of flights, or 13,783, according to FlightAware.com. Another 25.3%, or 126,620, were delayed, for an average of 50 minutes. Using a conservative estimate of 100 passengers per flight, that means at least 14 million travelers have been affected over the past five weeks.
For comparison, over the same period in 2019, 1.7% of flights were canceled and 19.4% delayed.
Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Ed Bastian on Thursday apologized to customers for an “unacceptable” level of flight disruptions this summer, an unusual step that reflects growing frustration among diverted travelers.
READ MORE: Philadelphia International Airport passengers heed warnings to arrive early on busy July 4 travel weekend
In a letter to members of Delta’s frequent flyer program, Bastian warned that “things won’t change overnight” despite the airline’s efforts to improve. The apology followed Delta’s unusual offer to let passengers change their travel plans on its network during the “potentially difficult” holiday without paying a fare difference or change fee.
On a recent flight from Michigan to Minnesota, Delta said it would give $10,000 to eight passengers who give up their seats on the oversold plane, and offered immediate payment to those who had Apple Pay, according to a magazine writer who said he was on the plane. (He did not accept the offer.)
Offering passengers money to give up a seat on an overbooked flight is one of the tools gate agents have to take care of customers and get planes off on time, a gatekeeper said. -word of Delta. He did not confirm the $10,000 offer.
After a 15% increase in passenger complaints this spring, Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged carriers to adopt more reasonable summer schedules. Airlines and regulators are at odds over who is most responsible for the recent disarray, with carriers pointing, in part, to air traffic control staff shortages.
The Federal Aviation Administration held a call with airlines on Thursday to discuss minimizing disruption.
“We look forward to continuing to work closely with the federal government to address a series of common challenges, including inclement weather, not just over the holiday weekend, but year-round,” Airlines for America said. , the major carrier lobby group, said after the call.
The FAA did not immediately comment.
Despite mounting frustrations, US airline stocks did not fare much worse than the broader market. The S&P Supercomposite Airlines Industry Index is down 22% this year, compared to a 20% drop in the S&P 500 Index. But as worries about the economy escalate, investors and analysts are wary .
“Airlines have a pretty poor track record during recessions and I wouldn’t recommend the group at this point,” said Rob Anderson, investment research analyst at Ned Davis Research.
About 74% of leisure passengers who took or planned a flight from May 20 to September 12 said they regretted their choice to fly, according to Atmosphere Research’s second-quarter U.S. travel survey. But there are limited alternatives in the United States for medium to long distance travel, Harteveldt said.
In addition to increased demand, a continued shortage of pilots at regional carriers has led to flight reductions and cancellations. Weather, a shortage of airport workers and employees sick with COVID-19 also snarled traffic. Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines Holdings Inc., Southwest Airlines Co. and JetBlue Airways Corp. cut their summer hours to try to smooth out the bumps.
Airline seat capacity remains around 7% lower than in 2019, while demand this weekend will reach 93% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Cirium data cited in the DePaul report. With crowded planes, that means travelers on canceled flights could struggle to get another seat.
“The difference with these vacations is in the sheer scale of travel volumes,” said Joseph Schwieterman, author of the DePaul report. “If cancellation rates hit 6% across the industry, as they have on some days in the recent past, the problem would likely reach crisis proportions, with tens of thousands of passengers stranded for a day. or more.”