The state of flying

July 6, 2022

"Revenge Travel"

From "stay at home" to "hit the road" why what seemed like a new chapter for travelers feels more like a nightmare.

What to Know

  • Flight delays and cancellations are impacting travelers around the world; multiple factors are feeding the flight frenzy.
  • A post-pandemic desire to travel: “There’s a shift from consumers purchasing goods to consumers purchasing services,” said Citi analyst Steve Trent, who focuses on airline travel.
  • Widespread labor shortage: Pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft fuelers, etc.
  • Airlines are cutting the number of daily flights (or suddenly adding more) & hiring more employees, but training can take months.
"It’s a mess and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Traveler Jenn Choi, whose luggage wound up in Germany instead of in Mexico with her, her husband and 1-year-old. One travel industry report says lost luggage has increased 67% from last year; the number of lost, delayed or damaged luggage in the U.S. has doubled year-over-year. One airline, Emirates, referred to the situation at one of the world’s busiest airports as “airmageddon.”

“We stretched ourselves to try and grab and secure as much of the revenue pie as we could. We did get caught off guard, as I think everyone in the industry did to some degree.”

Ed Bastian, chief executive of Delta Air Lines. How does this play out for customers? Delta, for example, cancelled some flights in the coming months and will not add additional flights for at least the rest of 2022 (even if demand surges). Other airlines have adopted similar tactics.

“It’s not just in North America, it’s everywhere. It’s a combination of available resources and demand picking up much more quickly than anyone anticipated.”

John Grant, analyst for OAG, a U.K.-based travel data provider. London Heathrow Airport, Europe’s busiest airport, has limited the number of departing passengers per day to reduce hurdles such as lost bags and security lines extending outside. Just how many lost bags? Delta Air Lines recently flew a plane with zero passengers & 1,000 lost bags from London to Detroit. Bags were then returned to owners.

"Shockwaves from the pandemic are going through every part of the economy … But these airlines, which received a lot of taxpayer funding to keep the system resilient, need to do their part."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg, referring to July 4th weekend. The Dept. of Transportation has criticized disruptions throughout the airline industry, citing the $50+ billion support package that airline companies received during the pandemic (including loans and payroll grants).

Friday, July 1, was the busiest day for air travel since February 2020 (right before the pandemic began). Airlines put systems in place ahead of time to help curb challenges and ease the likelihood of cancellations and delays; the efficacy of the effort surprised analysts.

One big question is whether these systems such as decreasing the number of daily flights to ensure staff availability and warning travelers to arrive extra early will be sufficient as travel continues to increase.

Air Travel Is Broken. Here’s Why. (Wall Street Journal)

Holiday travelers see fewer flight cancellations, still some headaches (Washington Post)

Check out this interview for four different perspectives from within the airline industry (WBUR)

by Jenna Lee,