AviationAs airports around the world report an uptick in passenger traffic, flight delays and cancellations are also piling up. Here's why.

Why is air travel such a mess right now?

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All these flight cancellations present problems for travellers but this is the golden opportunity for travel agents to shine with their resourcefulness and industry connections.
All these flight cancellations present problems for travellers but this is the golden opportunity for travel agents to shine with their resourcefulness and industry connections. Photo Credit: GettyImages/Tero Vesalainen

Staff shortages. Grounded planes. Flight cancellations. Soaring airfares. Even casual travellers can see that that 2022 is far from the airline industry’s shining hour.

Current statistics paint a decidedly unpleasant picture of air travel today. According to the United States Department of Transportation, more than 63,000 flights were cancelled so far this year, compared to just over 44,000 in 2019, before the pandemic.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, airline fares jumped 12.6% in May, after surging 18.6% the month before.

Why are flights being cancelled?

There are many reasons that flights are being canceled and delayed at unprecedented rates, ranging from the usual reasons (bad weather) to those of the pandemic era — such as rising fuel prices, Covid-19 case rates, air traffic control issues and staffing shortages.

We have service issues across the entire travel and tourism landscape combined with the post-pandemic [travel] surge, which now more than ever requires a travel advisor for even some of the simplest bookings.– Peter Vlitas, Internova Travel Group

For example, CNN reports that pilots are facing unprecedented levels of fatigue, while USA Today says that airlines have not been quick enough to replace pilots who have retired or taken a leave of absence.

Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group, says it’s a problem of supply and demand.

“It’s the perfect storm,” he said. “We have service issues across the entire travel and tourism landscape combined with the post-pandemic [travel] surge, which now more than ever requires a travel advisor for even some of the simplest bookings.”

How many flights are cancelled everyday?

To provide a visual idea of what travellers face, the flight tracking company FlightAware posts an aptly named MiseryMap, a live, graphic representation of current flight delays at airports around the US.

Air travel has gotten so problematic that, in June, Pete Buttigieg, the US secretary of transportation, pressured airline executives to revise flight schedules and do what that they can to minimise flight cancellations during the summer travel season. (The next day, Buttigieg's flight was cancelled.)

Travel advisors can help with flight cancellations

Indeed, the pandemic has made more travellers aware of the value and services that travel advisors provide. Travel professionals, meanwhile, must now help clients deal with a range of increasingly common hassles.

“Because of the unexpected surge in travel, advisors are having to work harder to find inventory to meet the client’s expectation on destination and price,” Vlitas said.

“As for the passengers, they are experiencing long lines at the airport, high prices on nonstops to prime destinations and, in the event of a flight cancellation, it taking hours to rebook. And there is the possibility of having to overnight or delay your flight by a day or two. The consumer [must also] decide within a shorter window due to high demand.”

But bundling air can be problematic when flights are cancelled

The challenges of air travel can be even more complex when booking a vacation package, according to Libbi Roed, owner of The Gypsea Traveller in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.

“The biggest struggle is [that] I book flights as part of a package with a supplier; therefore, the airlines won’t work with my clients or me to make changes to the flights,” she said. “I then need to call or email my supplier and ask for new flights. Sometimes the category of flights we booked aren’t available, so there aren’t any options.

“My clients have become extremely frustrated as they usually end up with worse options than they chose,” Roed added. “Many agents I know refuse to book air for their clients, as the clients truly have the most flexibility if they book it themselves. I haven’t been comfortable doing this yet; I feel like it’s not a complete package without the air, and my clients are coming to me for assistance. But I’ve found that when a schedule change occurs, I feel like I’m no help.”

Vlitas emphasises the importance of being informed in order to be better prepared for any problems that may arise.

“Internova Travel Group has built support teams to assist our customers,” he said. “We use a combination of senior support specialists plus an airline support desk, specifically available by IATA numbers. Part of our strategy is to be proactive by running daily lists and keeping an eye on weather, sizes of planes and airport options. As for price increases, advisors must look at connections versus nonstops that are less expensive, combined with private air programmes.”

Source: TravelAge West

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