Let’s talk about air travel. It’s a hot topic and I’ve read a lot of local and national stories about the subject. Here in Boise, the airport just dropped some information letting us know that this summer will be exceptionally busy.
“Our 2022 passenger counts have been consistently higher than our 2019 statistics, which was our busiest year to date,” said Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp in a press release. “Pair this general increase in demand with the uptick we traditionally see in travel from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and we are anticipating a record-breaking summer.”
There was also a reminder that parking will be limited at the airport due to construction, and, as always, people need to arrive early. So that’s what’s in store locally but what’s happening with airlines and flights nationally is also a bit of a mess.
I just got back from a trip to New York City and had a great time — but the trip back was awful. There were a few layovers that I was prepared for but nothing went as planned. I flew on Delta, an airline I haven’t frequented much, and had quite a time getting back home. I got stuck in Minneapolis and spent the day at the Mall of America. I’m sure that doesn’t sound too bad on the surface but it was a rough time … I do recommend the roller coasters at the mall though.
As I travelled, I saw multiple flights being cancelled and people left kind of on their own to navigate the system. Leaving Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the people on flight ahead of me had been waiting for three hours, people were in tears, and although that flight ended up taking off, others weren’t so lucky. A young man missed his connecting flight to Lisbon and a young mother missed her flight to see her husband. Everyone develops this glassed over look. Almost reminiscent of a cow brainlessly staring into space punctuated by slips of angry facial contortions as they remembered they were stuck. It was a bummer to watch and it made me increasingly uneasy about my journey back to Idaho … turns out with good reason.
My flight from Minneapolis to Boise was cancelled while I was in air. None of the flight attendants had told me, although I did ask repeatedly if we would make the connecting flight because we took off late. Blissfully unaware as my ticket did not reflect the changes, I hoofed it across the airport quickly to make the flight.
As I was walking I glanced up at the airport screen and saw: it was cancelled.
I sighed and went about looking for the Delta counter to see what could be done. The next available flight wasn’t until the next night at 9:30 p.m. The line to talk to a person at the counter at the terminal hadn’t moved for over 45 minutes and when I went to the phone line to talk to a Delta representative, I was told the wait was over an hour and a half long.
It was brutal. I finally wended my way to the front of the airport, dragging my increasingly heavier bags behind me, and went to the front Delta counter. There, the person told me I should have received a hotel voucher; I had not. It took about another two hours and a fair amount of weeping for me to get the voucher and shuttle to the hotel.
It could have been much worse, I know, but it was still pretty unpleasant and sitting in my hotel room the next day I started wondering if it was just Delta or if all of the airlines were experiencing these problems.
So I decided to find out. I contacted three major airlines: United, Southwest and Delta. I asked the same questions: Why are so many flights being cancelled? If it’s due to an employee shortage, why are so many flights still being booked? If the company is experiencing an employee shortage, can you please explain why? Is COVID factoring into any of this — i.e., people becoming sick and unable to work? And, what does this look like for summer travel? The answers were slightly varied.
United emailed me that it is having its largest trans-Atlantic expansion in history this summer and will offer 10 new flights and six new destinations not served by any other North American airline.
Further, the email said that United isn’t facing the operational challenges that many other airlines seem to be experiencing. The chief operations officer, Jon Roitman, wrote in a letter to all employees:
“On April 3 alone, Southwest cancelled 400+ flights, American cancelled almost 300 and Delta close to 50. Meanwhile. United only had to cancel 11 flights. Despite all airlines being impacted by challenges in Florida, while others were cancelling flights, we added 600 seats and two extra flights to provide customers a way in and out.”
The letter goes on to add that the key to United’s success is how quickly they notify customers of flight changes — at least four hours prior to the flight. There were no direct answers to my questions but, at least according to United, it’s doing pretty good.
Southwest also didn’t directly answer my questions, but like United, a company representative sent me a general email of information.
“The airline has posted significant operational improvements as we prepare for summer travel,” said the email. “To support customers and reliability this spring and summer, Southwest has increased headcount by approximately 3,300 in first quarter 2022, net of attrition, and plans to hire approximately 10,000 employees in 2022. Southwest also previously adjusted its published flight schedules for June through August 2022 to provide additional buffer to the operation this summer.”
Guess who didn’t answer my email by the time of publication?
Additionally, although the emails received from United and Southwest were comforting, they may not be telling the whole picture.
According to CNBC, airlines have big challenges ahead of them this summer. Airfare and booking have rapidly increased and the carriers may have a hard time rebooking people after a cancellation. On top of that, there seems to be a bit of a worker shortage even though the airlines assure that they have hired enough people for the “summer surge.” In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office is looking into the recent disruptions — and weather is always a factor.
Looks pretty messy but there are some things that can help if you find yourself stuck like I was. Don’t fly on Saturdays because most carriers offer less flights on that day; check the weather of your destination; and if your flight does get cancelled, know that you are entitled to a refund or a voucher.
Good luck up there! I hope everyone traveling this season has a smoother trip than me.