Are Airlines Prepared For Holiday Travel?

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Are Airlines Prepared For Holiday Travel?
Will airlines be ready for the holiday rush after a summer bummer?

It’s that time of year again and the rush is on. It’s holiday travel season, but will airlines be ready for the holiday rush after a summer bummer? 

Things got off to a rocky start last September when American Airlines announced it was canceling over 14,000 domestic flights from its December schedule. 

At the time, CEO Robert Isom told investors "right now, there’s more demand than we’d like to be servicing." 

The demand is overpowering a shrinking, aging commercial pilot pipeline. Labor shortages go beyond the cockpit as United and Southwest flight attendants picketed over staffing and general working conditions in September.

Henry Harteveldt has been analyzing the flight industry for 20 years. He says despite challenges, airlines are trying to learn from last summer’s headaches.

"The airlines were overly aggressive in the number of flights they scheduled and they were overly confident in how many of their pilots and flight attendants would be available to work," he said. "Airlines are gonna do their best to operate every flight they can during the holidays and operate those flights on time or as close to on time as possible, airlines know that they frustrated a lot of passengers during the summer."

In addition to consistency in the air, Harteveldt says airlines are also trying to be more consistent on the ground, but challenges linger.

"The airport concession operators have been hiring more people to work at those concessions but one of the biggest challenges concession operators tell me they have is getting the people who go through the background checks and accept that — getting them badged to work at the airport," he said.

He says providers of services like wheelchairs are having similar issues finding staffing. 

So what can you do to counter some of the shortcomings?  

Harteveldt says reach out to the airline before your trip to let them know if you will require assistance. He also suggests reaching out to TSA in advance to let them know if you’re differently abled. And last but not least, book as soon as possible.

"If you find flights that meet your scheduling needs, that meet your budget, and you like and trust that airline book the flights, don't try to game the system, the airlines have far more intelligence, far more data than you," he continued.  

But be prepared to shell out extra cash.

According to travel site Hopper, more than half of Americans are planning to travel for one or both holidays this year. The average one-way domestic airfare for Thanksgiving is expected at $350. For Christmas the price spikes to $463. And where you travel also determines what you’ll pay.  

Using data from the Bureau of Transportation, the financial planning site SmartAsset ranked the nation’s busiest airports based on how expensive airfare became between the second quarter of 2021 and 2022. Pensacola International in Florida saw the largest increase at 51%. And maybe you thought you could get a better price if you traveled during a so-called non-peak time in early November or between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but work-from-home flexibility has changed the game. 

"The travel period is much busier during a time when normally before COVID we would have seen a decline and airlines attribute this to the increased flexibility a lot of people have on where they can work," Harteveldt said.   

The bottom line is the rules of old have changed, but with proper preparation — one can still avoid a holiday panic.