Come fly our crowded, delayed skies!

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Come fly our crowded, delayed skies!

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Flyers have had to shoulder significant fare hikes this year, coupled with a huge number of flight cancellations. Prices have leveled off and started to come down slowly as airlines have staffed up. Will that mean more pleasant travels during the holidays?

The message of travel experts the Washington Examiner consulted was: Don’t count on it.

“Airlines have been bulking up on staffing, and that should help with some of the issues they’ve had over the last year that have led to cancellations,” said Gary Leff, author of the influential View From the Wing travel website. Then, he added several “buts.”

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The Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays, he pointed out, “often coincide with bad weather that can snarl holiday plans.” This is doubly true when air travel is involved.

“Since planes tend to be even more full than usual, it’s tough to recover from delays that cause misconnections and from cancellations,” Leff said. “There’s just not a lot of slack in the system, with open seats on later flights to get passengers onto and on their way.”

He added that the holidays have “a higher number of travelers than normal — compressed into a few peak days.” That means “longer lines for security, longer lines for airport concessions, and longer hold times trying to reach your airline by phone if you do wind up needing assistance with your itinerary.”

William J. McGee, a senior fellow for aviation at the American Economic Liberties Project, explained airlines’ logistical challenges.

“Most travel experts acknowledge we are nowhere near where we need to be with airline staffing and capacity, so there’s little doubt this could be a very problematic holiday travel season when it kicks off in a few days,” McGee told the Washington Examiner.

McGee admitted the crewing shortages that “spurred record numbers of flight delays and cancellations and created such a debacle during the summer travel season abated a bit after Labor Day,” but he doesn’t think that will be enough to make a pleasant holiday season for many travelers.

“The U.S. airline industry has been less than forthcoming in dealing with flight cancellations all year long, and the U.S. Department of Transportation has failed all of us by not effectively addressing the chronic flight disruptions,” he said.

 

McGee advised air travelers to “prepare for the worst during the holidays. That means being proactive about staying in touch with the airlines, opting for the earliest flights in the day and nonstops if possible, and citing the carrier’s contract of carriage if things go wrong.”

On top of all that, the pilots union for Delta Air Lines is threatening to strike if contract talks break down. At press time, that did not appear likely but was not outside the realm of possibility.

Many would-be passengers are looking at the odds of disruption or at current fare prices and saying, “No thanks.”

“We aren’t [flying], exactly for those reasons,” Washington state resident Meg Arnold Banta told the Washington Examiner. “I only get so much time off, and I refuse to take a laptop on vacation ‘just in case.’”

Additionally, an October Bankrate survey found that because of prices, 23% of travelers were opting to drive to their destinations instead of flying.

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Plenty of travelers are still willing to brave it, however.

“We’re flying on Dec. 15 and Jan. 3,” said Emily Nollmeyer D’Anna. “I support union activity, though, so I probably won’t complain [in the event of a strike], especially if we get to stay in New Orleans a bit longer.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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