Staffing shortages, overbooked flights and doubling ticket costs threaten summer travel plans

Flight disruptions, soaring ticket prices and long airport queues will continue throughout the summer as airlines struggle to hire enough workers to meet surging post-pandemic travel demand.

Delta Airlines has hired more than 15,000 workers in the last year but it is still not enough so the firm has cut its summertime service by about 100 flights per day.

Passengers booking tickets on America’s most popular flight routes – to and from hub airports in Atlanta, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles – are paying more than double average prices for their roundtrip tickets.

Travelers first reported an influx of crowded airports, flight cancellations and extended delays in early spring after nearly all COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates on airplanes, were lifted. 

Experts warn the stunted travel industry cannot support the skyrocketing demand and predict the situation is ‘only going to get worse’ as a record number of more than three million daily travelers embark on their summer holidays.

Flight disruptions, soaring ticket prices and long airport queues will continue throughout the summer as airlines struggle hire enough workers to meet the post-pandemic travel demand. Travelers are pictured at LAX Airport in Los Angeles on May 27

Flight disruptions, soaring ticket prices and long airport queues will continue throughout the summer as airlines struggle hire enough workers to meet the post-pandemic travel demand. Travelers are pictured at LAX Airport in Los Angeles on May 27

Delta Airlines has vowed to cut its service by about 100 flights per day from July 1 to August 7. Both JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have reduced their schedules by 10% and 2%, respectively

Delta Airlines has vowed to cut its service by about 100 flights per day from July 1 to August 7. Both JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have reduced their schedules by 10% and 2%, respectively

The cost of airfare in the US is up between 25 and 35 percent from last summer.

David Slotnick, Senior Airline Business Reporter for The Points Guy, described the price hike as a ‘remarkable and massive increase.’

‘While some of this is linked to inflation and the cost of fuel, the real driver here is the current high demand versus a comparatively limited supply,’ he told DailyMail.com on Monday.

Slotnick said airlines are struggling to reach pre-pandemic staffing levels. They noted that some carriers also retired older planes in their fleet during the COVID crisis.

‘That decision may have seemed like a good one at the time when everyone was in survival mode, but in hindsight, it’s meant that they’ve been unable to meet the current demand and manage their operations the way they would have before 2020,’ he explained.

Despite the surging airfare costs, Slotnick noted that most travel-hungry and pandemic-fatigued Americans are willing to pay the astronomical flight prices.

‘While some people have responded to surveys saying that they’re reconsidering their travel plans due to price increases, the airlines really aren’t seeing any demand pullback in response to the high prices. Airfare is high, but people are booking flights anyway,’ he said.

‘The best advice right now is to book your travel as early as possible. Make your plans and lock them in; there’s no sign of prices coming down anytime soon, and there’s no reason to think they won’t go up further. 

‘If you’re still looking to book a holiday this summer and want to try and find the best flight deals, you can always check the airline websites for posted deals, but one good trick is to use the Google Flights “Explore” tab. Put your home airport, fill out the other fields as best you can, and see what’s available.’ 

Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, also attributed the rising flight costs to the fact that airlines still haven’t reinstated all of the routes that were scrapped during the pandemic.

‘Flight capacity to the US is also lower than before the pandemic as airlines have not reinstated their pre-Covid schedules yet,’ he told DailyMail.com. ‘More restricted flight capacity also puts up the price of remaining seats.’

Americans are paying nearly double the average ticket cost for flights that while likely face major delays, if not cancellations

Americans are paying nearly double the average ticket cost for flights that while likely face major delays, if not cancellations

Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian said the air carrier, which is one of America’s largest, has been actively hiring new workers over the past year after more than 17,000 employees left the company in July 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

‘We’ve been staffing and hired 15,000 people over the last 14 months to get ready for [the surge]. But there’s a lot of training, there’s a lot of experience, our pilots need to get staffed,’ he told GMA on Monday, adding: ‘It’s a challenge.’

‘We’re only a little over 80 percent recovered as an airline yet the demand is already over 100 percent.’ 

The CEO’s remarks echo a claim the company made nearly two weeks ago when it announced its plans to reduce service by about 100 daily departures, primarily in parts of the U.S. and Latin America, from July 1 to August 7. 

A company spokesperson alleged COVID has continued to cause higher-than-average staff absences and noted airlines in general have struggled to rehire staff let go at the start of the pandemic.

JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have also reduced their schedules by 10 and two percents, respectively, in effort to curb the surge.

The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) says the staffing issues and traffic volumes are causing many of the nation’s largest airports to experience ground stops and delays, limiting flight takeoffs and landings.

Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian said the air carrier has hired more than 15,000 workers in the last year but still cannot meet the travel demands. 'We're only a little over 80 percent recovered as an airline yet the demand is already over 100 percent,' he explained

Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian said the air carrier has hired more than 15,000 workers in the last year but still cannot meet the travel demands. ‘We’re only a little over 80 percent recovered as an airline yet the demand is already over 100 percent,’ he explained

Citing pandemic-related staffing shortages, some of the nation's largest air carriers are slashing their summer schedules in an effort to 'minimize disruptions.' American Airlines passengers are seen sleeping in an airport on Sunday after their flight was cancelled

Citing pandemic-related staffing shortages, some of the nation’s largest air carriers are slashing their summer schedules in an effort to ‘minimize disruptions.’ American Airlines passengers are seen sleeping in an airport on Sunday after their flight was cancelled

In addition to scrapping summer routes, airlines looking to cut back on training requirements in an effort to get more pilots in the skies as quickly as possible. 

Republic Airways, which operates as United Express, American Eagle, and Delta Connection, has petitioned the FAA to allow the air carrier to hire pilots who have accumulated 750 hours of total flight time. The current requirement is 1,500 hours.

In its request, the air carrier noted how military pilots are already subject to a 750-hour exemption due to the rigor of military flight school.

However, Michael Santoro, Vice President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) slammed the petition, saying it was a ‘safety concern’ and ‘not a good idea.’

‘We are definitely not in favor of any kind of reduction in the time that it takes to get your qualifications to become an airline pilot,’ he told Fox & Friends First on Monday.

Santoro argued most large carriers wouldn’t hire the type of pilots Republic is petitioning to add, but reiterated he still opposes the idea.

‘Those are usually the smaller jets, regional airlines that are hiring those kind of pilots. Your major airlines don’t have that issue yet,’ he said.

‘But we definitely are against lowering any type of qualifications. It is a safety concern for us. You know, that is obviously top of the list for us when it comes to piloting.’

Meanwhile, Americans are paying nearly double the average ticket cost for a flight that while likely face major delays, if not cancellations.

A roundtrip from New York’s JFK airport to LAX in Los Angeles typically goes for around $300. Currently, rates are more than $770.

Similarly trends were reported for routes from LAX to San Francisco, LAX to Seattle and Atlanta to New York, with tickets currently selling for $279, $612 and $382.

On average, those same routes cost $134, $239 and $180, respectively. 

Experts also allege ticket price hikes will be reflected on international routes. 

‘The US is likely to have a bumper summer period in terms of visitors from the UK – so many consumers want to holiday there as they haven’t been able to visit since before the pandemic in many cases,’ Paul Charles told DailyMail.com. 

‘Flight prices have gone up between the UK and US, partly due to sheer demand but also because higher oil prices and higher inflation are costing the transatlantic airlines more, and so they are recouping those costs via higher seat prices.’

And, while consumers are paying top dollar for their airfare, they aren’t necessarily receiving top tier treatment. 

More than 5,000 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were nixed over Memorial Day weekend when three million Americans were expected to take to the skies.

As of Monday afternoon, the U.S. has already cancelled more than 230 flights and reported more than 1,500 delays, according to tracking service FlightAware.

As of Monday afternoon, the U.S. has already cancelled more than 230 flights and reported more than 1,500 delays, according to tracking service FlightAware

As of Monday afternoon, the U.S. has already cancelled more than 230 flights and reported more than 1,500 delays, according to tracking service FlightAware

The large number of disruptions have left passengers frustrated and feeling helpless, with many reporting hours-long waits to speak with airline help desks.

Customer service queues at the airports are long and those who try calling their carrier’s toll free number are met with messages like: ‘Our service lines are very busy at the moment and waiting times are longer than normal.’

Brett Snyder, President of Cranky Flier, advised travelers to ‘use every avenue you possibly can’ when met with a flight cancellation.

‘That means if you’re at the airport, get in line, find an agent you can talk to,’ he told GMA. ‘At the same time, check the app on your phone because sometimes you’ll be able to find alternatives that way.’

Santoro also noted that getting rebooked on a flight after a cancellation can be hard because most airlines have an operating model of selling every available seat on a route. 

‘We try to obviously not cancel flights, but it goes back to [how] Southwest kinda packed our schedule’s pretty hard,’ he said. ‘When those delays happen, pilots can timeout and that’s  something we don’t look forward to happening but it is a reality.’

‘If there is a cancellation, work on a solution as fast as you can because there is very limited seats available on rebooking. That means, you are fighting for the [same] 147 seats as the other 147 passengers on your plane.’

In addition to scrapping summer routes, airlines looking to cut back on training requirements in an effort to get more pilots in the skies as quickly as possible. One air carrier has petitioned the FAA to allow them to hire pilots with 750 flight hours, as opposed to the required 1,500

In addition to scrapping summer routes, airlines looking to cut back on training requirements in an effort to get more pilots in the skies as quickly as possible. One air carrier has petitioned the FAA to allow them to hire pilots with 750 flight hours, as opposed to the required 1,500

Michael Santoro, Vice President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association criticized the proposal, saying it was a 'safety concern' and 'not a good idea'

Michael Santoro, Vice President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association criticized the proposal, saying it was a ‘safety concern’ and ‘not a good idea’

The airlines have claimed they ‘weren’t given enough warning’ for the increased travel demand, however travel industry experts remain skeptical of that defense. 

‘The main thing [causing disruption] is the staffing,’ Which? Travel magazine editor Rory Boland told CNN on Saturday. ‘So then you go to, why were so many people let go during the pandemic?’ 

‘The airlines’ defense is that they weren’t given enough warning about the restart of travel, and there’s probably some fairness to that, but there are clearly some airlines and airports that were able to get their act together.’

Of those ‘having a complete disaster,’ Boland argued it would be impossible to reach adequate staffing levels as long as airports and airlines continue their ‘relentless’ cost-cutting practices.

He compared wages at various airports across the globe and alleged in some areas check-in staff were paid similar rates less than that of supermarket workers. 

‘Airport working conditions are difficult,’ he stated. ‘You’re asked to work difficult hours, on-site parking is not usually free, and there’s very little incentive when you’re being paid less than a supermarket [would pay you.]’ 

Travelers queue up at the north security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport on May 26

Travelers queue up at the north security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport on May 26

A frustrated American Airlines passenger shared a picture of his flight cancellation notices to Twitter on Wednesday

A frustrated American Airlines passenger shared a picture of his flight cancellation notices to Twitter on Wednesday

Travel expert Christopher Elliott first addressed flight disruptions in April, alleging they were a ‘sign of things to come.’ 

Now he’s predicting the situation will only get worse.

‘This is going pretty much like I thought it would… and I think it’s going to get worse,’ he said. ‘I think this is just the opening act for what will be a crazy summer. 

‘We have high gas prices, we have record demand straining the entire system, we still have pilot shortages. Airlines haven’t fully staffed up yet the way they needed to.’

Elliott advised travelers should postpone their dream vacations and instead take a road trip close to home. He suggested avoiding rental cars and utilizing your own vehicle for travel, if possible.

‘If you don’t have your own car, go somewhere using mass transit, and go somewhere that allows you to walk or has access to mass transit,’ he told CNN. ‘Save the bucket list vacation for September, October or November.’ 

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