4th of July travelers face canceled flights, crowded airports and higher fares

People across the United States are expected to fly in greater numbers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for the July 4 holiday weekend, underscoring a beleaguered transportation system that is experiencing tens of thousands of cancellations and delays.

Nearly 8,000 flights within, to or from the United States were delayed on Friday and 587 were canceled. Another 2,100 were delayed and 523 canceled, around 11:20 a.m. in New York on Saturday, according to FlightAware.com.

Fourth of July travelers may also have to contend with inclement weather. Thunderstorms are expected on Saturday along part of the east coast from Washington to Boston. Further south, Tropical Storm Colin formed “unexpectedly” off South Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened about 2.5 million passengers at U.S. airports on Friday in what is expected to be the busiest travel weekend of the year yet.

READ MORE: Philadelphia International Airport passengers heed warnings to arrive early on busy 4th of July travel weekend

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 July. Memorial Day in May, the traditional kickoff of the summer travel season.

Passengers are being urged to shell out high prices for tickets despite the growing likelihood of hassle, 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.

“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 this week to plan games for the coming days.

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.

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 24% this year, compared to a 21% 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 COVID-sick employees also snarled traffic. Delta, American Airlines Group Inc., 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.”

Domestic round-trip fares are up 45% from 2019 and are the highest since 2018, Hopper said. Flights out of the country cost an average of $1,200, up 31% from before the pandemic.

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