Welcome to the summer of Hunger Games travel chaos! 75% of Americans are planning trips in a post-pandemic hurrah – but pilot shortages and inflation prices spell havoc
- Some 25million Americans plan to take domestic vacations this year after as COVID restrictions lift
- But a lack of pilots means there aren’t enough to keep up with demand – causing delays and cancelations
- US Airlines canceled 2,500 flights over Memorial Day Weekend due to the imbalance
- Now, people also say road trips have become too expensive as a result of rising gas prices
- Inflation has increased other travel costs with airfares 11 percent more expensive now than in 2019
- America will need to recruit 14,500 new pilots every year until 2030 to keep up with demand but only 5,000 on average are hired every year
- Two American Airlines subsidiaries – Piedmont and Envoy – are offering 50% raises to lure staff
It was supposed to be the summer of carefree travel after a grim two years of COVID concerns.
But for the 75 percent of Americans who plan to take a vacation this year, a hodge-podge of setbacks are spelling trouble.
For those flying out of state or even overseas, pilot shortages and a lack of TSA employees are creating snaking lines and delays at airports and flight cancellations. Many TSA checkpoints were closed during COVID – creating bottlenecks at already-crowded ports.
Airlines are now rushing to lure pilots who lost their jobs in the pandemic back to work; Piedmont and Envoy, two regional carriers owned by American Airlines, recently offered 50 percent raises to pilots as an incentive. It has put pressure on major airlines to follow suit, after many laid off pilots during the death of air travel in 2020.
Couple with that a surge in demand for travel from tens of millions of Americans who don’t care about the rising price of their trip and are hell-bent on getting away.
Travelers pass through Salt Lake City International Airport Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Salt Lake City as millions return to summer travel – but a lack of pilots, airport staff and rising costs are spelling trouble for vacationers
Travel is considerably more expensive this year than it was in 2019 thanks to a combination of factors; inflation is top of the list, as are airlines trying to clamber back some of their losses.
Now, experts say Americans face a ‘Hunger Games’-style scenario in securing the trips they want.
‘It’s going to be a ‘Hunger Games’ like battle to get the fares you want, the flights you want this summer.
‘And the concern I have is that there’s absolutely no wiggle room, no flex room, in the industry if and when something goes wrong,’ Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group told NPR this week.
PILOT SHORTAGES MEAN MORE FLIGHT DELAYS AND CANCELATIONS
COVID grounded almost all of the flights around America during the pandemic which canceled out work for tens of thousands of pilots.
Some of those pilots were encouraged to take early retirement to avoid lay-offs. Trainee pilots were halted from graduating due to a lack of flying hours, however, and even qualified pilots couldn’t complete the industry-required minimum number of flying hours to keep themselves in the air.
It drove many to other jobs in different sectors, creating a gap that is now a gaping hole in the industry.
The problem is that pilots are retiring at a faster rate than they are joining the workforce.
Two subsidiaries of American Airlines are offering pilots 50 percent raises to lure them back to work and keep their fleets in the air
The number of flight delays and cancelations across America on Tuesday showed some airports were lagging behind
Experts now estimate that an additional 14,500 pilots will need to be hired every year for the next eight years to keep up with demand. But only 5,000 are hired on-average every year.
It is translating into more flights being canceled across the country. Over Memorial Day Weekend, 2,500 flights were canceled out of US airports.
Today, 329 flights to, from and in the US had been canceled. Ninety-four flights out of Charlotte Douglas Airport were delayed.
Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, told CNBC that other airlines need to follow suit in raising pilot wages if they want to keep fleets in the air.
‘Good on the pilots receiving these raises but when you have an airline that’s pushing across a more than 50% pay increase, it’s recognizing with dollars that they have a problem,’ he said.
Other pilots are campaigning to raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65. The pilot shortage predates COVID but has been exasperated by it.
In 2019, 65 percent of airlines cited pilot shortage as a key concern in a study with Oliver Wyman, a research group.
‘Based on a modest recovery scenario, we believe a global pilot shortage will emerge in certain regions no later than 2023 and most probably before.
‘However, with a more rapid recovery and greater supply shocks, this could be felt as early as late this year.
‘Regarding magnitude, in our most likely scenarios, there is a global gap of 34,000 pilots by 2025.
‘This could be as high as 50,000 in the most extreme scenarios,’ said the Oliver Wyman report.
INCREASING GAS PRICES MEAN MANY CAN’T AFFORD TO GO ON THE ROAD
In the past, an old-fashioned American road trip was always an easy alternative to airport headaches. But soaring gas prices this year are pricing some families out of hitting the road.
A recent survey by the US Travel Association found than one in ten can’t afford to go on a road trip this year because of the increased cost.
Gas prices hit $5 per gallon over the weekend – the highest in America’s history. Previously, the record was $4.114 in the summer of 2008 at the dawn of the Global Financial Crisis.
Joseph Jones, a 52-year-old man from Dallas, planned to drive to Nashville, visiting various Civil War sites on the way, but he canceled his trip after spending $60 to fill up his Ford Escape.
A recent survey by the US Travel Association found than one in ten can’t afford to go on a road trip this year because of the increased cost
The national average gas price in the US hit $5 for the first time in history this weekend – with California now boasting the highest prices in the country at an average of $6.44 per gallon
‘I thought, “this is insane,'” he told Bloomberg in a recent interview.
Another traveler, Kevin Ng, a middle school teacher from California, told DailyMail.com his travel plans to drive from Southern California to the Pacific North West region to visit friends and family were ruined by the increases.
‘I’m in that 1 of 10. I initially had plans, but it all trickled down. Increased gas prices make the rent seem more expensive and the groceries seem more expensive.
‘There were also some issues with the company I work for with new management, and the pay got messed up.
‘The pay is coming, but at a different schedule.
‘In general, due to the world situation, our company got hit with so much disorganization and low morale where everyone is trying to blame everyone else. But yeah: no funds,’ he said.
RUSH IN TRAVEL DEMAND DESPITE THE RISING PRICES
It’s not just road trips that have become more expensive.
More families say the cost of their trip this year is higher than ever before – an indicator of the inescapable inflation across the country.
The cost of travel has increased by 18 percent since 2019, according to a recent survey by the US Travel Association.
Transport has increased the most with a 39 percent jump. Airline tickets are 21.7% more expensive than they were three years ago and fuel is up by more than 50 percent. Hotels are 11.1% more expensive than they were in 2019, and food and drink is 14.8% more costly.
Despite the rising prices, many Americans are undeterred.
Long lines for car rentals at the Budget Car desk in Savannah, Georgia, on June 11 as more Americans traveled
Three quarters of the country – around 25million people – are planning a domestic vacation, according to April research by insurance company Allianz. Hopper, which tracks flight prices, say airfares have gone through the roof.
‘Air fare is incredibly high for domestic travel this summer. We’re seeing this week air fares averaging about $394 round-trip for domestic flight per ticket,’ Hayley Berg, lead economist, told NPR.
It represents an increase of 50 percent since last year and 25 percent since the start of COVID.
‘That’s really been striking to see, especially because of where we were with air travel earlier in the pandemic and through much of the past two years. Now we’re seeing heavy demand coupled with high prices,” ,” says Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights said.
DELAY AT THE AIRPORTS IN TSA SHORTAGES AND SLOW-MOVING CUSTOMS LINES
Last year, vaccine mandates for TSA workers led to staffing shortages and the hangover is still playing out in airports.
The government body will not release official figures for how many agents it lost to other jobs during the pandemic, but it is recruiting all over the country.
Last year, some airports were offering $1,000 signing bonuses for anyone who joined its staff.
There seem to be similar issues among the number of Customs and Border Patrol Agents manning immigration when international flights land.
One weary traveler told DailyMail.com that he waited for two hours to pass through JFK in New York on Sunday night after flying in from London because there were only two CBP agents screening passengers.
‘After a seven-hour flight from London (including an aborted landing because there was too much traffic) I had to wait over two hours to get through the TSA passport control. They only had three people staffing the desks for the non-US citizens section.
‘The US citizens part appeared to be better staffed (their wait time dipped below ‘Minimum 60 minutes’ a couple of times during our wait).
‘It’s a terrible first impression for tourists visiting the United States. There were some unfortunate souls who were getting connecting flights and had to beg to get to the front of the queue so they could go out, get their bags and then check in again.
‘One woman looked on the verge of tears,’ the British man, who declined to give his name, said.