From increasingly long waiting times and frequent cancellations to unexpected delays and lost luggage, air travel in recent months has become an unreliable and often unpleasant experience. Read below to learn why airlines are struggling, and what you can do to ensure the best experience possible.
Effects of COVID-19
In 2019, before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, 106,849 commercial flights took off and landed globally every day. The global aviation industry was valued at 838 billion US dollars. Throughout COVID, restrictions placed on passenger crafts reduced the number of daily commercial flights to 74,297. In 2020, the global aviation industry dropped to a value of 359.3 billion US dollars.
Despite directly employing over eleven million people, almost all airlines are struggling with one issue: staffing. While suffering from the effects of the pandemic, airlines cut expenses by cleaning house. Staff were laid off— pilots and gate agents alike. Aircraft was both sold and retired. There was no way of knowing when airlines would be allowed to fly at full capacity again, and the recent increase in demand for flights have caught airlines woefully unprepared.
Impacts on the Airline Industry
The rapidly increasing demand for air travel in 2022 has left airlines scrambling to fill the positions they had cleared, resulting in overworked employees and underserved clients. During typical times, the cancellation rates for flights had stayed around the 1-2% mark. However, they are now at an average of 3%, even increasing to 5-6% on busy weekends.
The airline industry is prone to a cascading effect: When one element falls through, the impacts are seen throughout the entire system. Understaffing of pilots leads to a serious lack of resilience in a system that already relies on perfect timing. If one pilot is unable to fly, many flights are canceled and many more are delayed. When weather conditions forbid flying, planes do not reach their destination on time and passengers suffer the delays. When flights are canceled, passengers spill over into the following flights, overbooking the already crowded aircraft. The system will take time to rebuild to its pre-COVID capacity, and in the meantime there are multiple steps you can take to ensure the best experience possible.
Advice on How to Travel
If it is possible to get to your destination in less than eight hours via car, bus, or train, it is advisable to take that option. These forms of transport are both cheaper for larger groups of people and more reliable. Even if you plan to take a plane, look into a backup option just in case your flight falls through.
When booking your flight, look for airlines that offer many flights from your starting point to your destination. That way, in the event your flight is canceled, you will have backup options. If available and affordable, always try to book direct flights. A direct flight will greatly reduce your risk of running into difficulties.
Expect longer lines at security and more crowded walkways than you would normally experience, and time your arrival accordingly. Many airlines are recommending passengers arrive no sooner than four hours before their flights to keep crowds to a minimum.
With issues arising in the sorting and shipping of large amounts of luggage, it is common for passengers to be delayed in claiming their belongings. Keeping your bag with you is always the best way to ensure it will arrive at your destination, but if that is not possible, there are other ways to decrease the risk. Attach an AirTag or other tracking device to your luggage so you will always know where it is. If your luggage does not appear at baggage claim, do not worry: 97% of lost luggage is returned to its owner within two days. The first step to retrieving your luggage is to finalize a claim at the baggage desk, making sure to specify a delivery address. Review your airline’s policy for reimbursement and check in often for updates.
Air travel serves an integral role in millions of lives: a way to quickly and safely visit family, work, and explore the wonders that the world has to offer. However, due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, reopening air travel to its previous capacity will be a gradual process. It is predicted that pre-COVID air travel will be achieved by 2024. In the meantime, travel with patience and know that airline employees have very little control over delays, cancellations, and other inconveniences, and they are doing everything possible to get you where you want to be.
Compton, Natalie B. “The Airline Lost Your Luggage. Now What?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Jan. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/tips/lost-luggage-reimbursement-airline/.
Jay, Allan. “Number of Flights Worldwide in 2022/2023: Passenger Traffic, Behaviors, and Revenue.” Financesonline.com, FinancesOnline.com, 14 Jan. 2022, https://financesonline.com/number-of-flights-worldwide/.
Kelleher, Suzanne Rowan. “The Smart Traveler's Survival Playbook for Summer Flight Cancellations.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 July 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/suzannerowankelleher/2022/06/30/the-smart-travelers-survival-playbook-for-summer-flight-cancellations/?sh=7c7d88453985.
“Lost Luggage Surprise: 97% of Bags Are Found, Returned within 2 Days.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 6 Apr. 2014, https://www.latimes.com/business/la-xpm-2014-apr-06-la-fi-travel-briefcase-20140407-story.html.
Published by Statista Research Department, and Jul 27. “Revenue of Airlines Worldwide 2003-2022.” Statista, 27 July 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/278372/revenue-of-commercial-airlines-worldwide/.
Salas, Erick Burgueño. “Global Airline Industry Market Size 2018-2021.” Statista, 12 Apr. 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1110342/market-size-airline-industry-worldwide/.
“Up to 46 Million Jobs at Risk Due to COVID-19 Aviation Downturn.” ACI World, 5 Aug. 2021, https://aci.aero/2020/09/30/up-to-46-million-jobs-at-risk-due-to-covid-19-aviation-downturn/.
About the Author:
Harper Lindsay is a rising junior. She was elected as chair of her high school's MUN team and has a passion for cross country. Harper is the founder of Food For Fidos, a nonprofit organization which contributes to the amount of dog food in Boston food banks to support people caring for their pets throughout difficult times.