More and more people are flying, so why are airlines cutting flight prices and increasing prices?
A shortage of pilots and a faster than expected take-off in passenger demand are forcing some airlines to cut flights and reorganize their schedules.
Passengers who have already booked their summer trip should watch out for the possibility of changing reservations – and those who have not yet purchased their tickets should watch out for rising airfares, experts say.
The number of daily passengers reached 2 million last week – near 2019 levels – according to data from the Transportation Security Administration’s traveler checkpoints.
Airlines have coped with the drop in passenger traffic during the pandemic by putting workers on leave and accelerating large-scale retirement and early retirement programs, or encouraging them to take extended unpaid time off from the workplace. ‘aviation industry. Some found new jobs in truck driving, warehouses or turned to food stamps.
The airline industry has received $ 48 billion in payroll support for coronavirus relief legislation. Airlines have warned of massive layoffs if more support is not available. They also issued layoff notices and then rescinded them after receiving more support. At the time, the industry said it needed some relief in part to maintain its employees so they could meet demand for domestic flights after passengers returned. Despite these efforts, the industry is still struggling.
Airlines were already grappling with a shortage of pilots before the pandemic to replace a series of pilots and mechanics, hired during the boom of the 1980s, who had reached mandatory retirement age. They have also reduced the training events and flight rotations needed to maintain skills, said Bob Mann, industry analyst at RW Mann & Co., an aviation consulting firm.
“With a nationwide recovery underway, the industry faces a shortage of qualified personnel and an empty replacement pipeline – except for flying and retraining pilots and [maintenance technicians] of their regional affiliate / supplier airlines, which just outpaces the industry shortage operating nearly half of the domestic flights in the United States, ”said Mann.
While this strategy saved money in the short term, it only exacerbated the crisis once the leaflets came back.
“It was all obvious and stated from the start – unless you thought demand would never recover, which it always has been,” Mann told NBC News in an emailed statement.
American Airlines canceled more than 400 flights over the weekend, according to flight data tracked by FlightAware, and expects it will have to cancel 50 flights a day until mid-July, or more than 1,200 in total. , or 1% of its total program.
The airline spoke of staff shortages, maintenance issues and adverse weather conditions, and said it was trying to minimize disruption to passengers.
“The first weeks of June brought unprecedented weather conditions to our largest hubs, severely affecting our operations and causing delays, canceled flights and disruption to crew member schedules and our customers’ plans,” American Airlines said in an emailed statement to NBC News. “This, combined with the labor shortages some of our suppliers face and the incredibly rapid rise in customer demand, has resulted in us building the resilience and certainty of our operations by adjusting a fraction of our flights scheduled until mid-July. . “
The company said it was trying to reduce the number of affected customers by making changes in markets where travelers have more options, meaning passengers could be booked on a flight later or earlier, or rerouted through another hub.
Experts warn passengers should prepare for higher airfares.
“The money boosted by steroids will lead to inflation,” Adam Pilarski, industry consultant with aviation consulting firm Avitas, said in an email. “In aviation, it will be more pronounced.”
Air fares rose 7 percent in May after already rising 10 percent in April, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index report.
Airfares are expected to continue to rise and peak in July and August, at the height of the summer travel season, Mann said. They tend to decrease after Labor Day with the return to school and then to rise again during winter vacation.
Consumers lock in their vacation plans early. Bookings for November and December are already 30% higher at this point than in 2019, according to data from Adobe Analytics.
Pilots and crew members on leave must retrain before they are put back into service, but airlines are lagging behind as rising passenger demand causes everyone to fall behind, experts say.
“They need more control airmen, pilot instructors and the training department needs to operate virtually 24/7,” said one flight attendant who requested anonymity as they were not allowed to speak on behalf of their airline.
Airlines are trying a range of tactics to attract crews to high-demand flights and boost hiring. Southwest Airlines uses chatbots and says it uses AI to tailor messages to candidates. Airlines are re-contacting candidate pilots whose hiring has been suspended due to the pandemic to resume the process.
They also reject the blame.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has partly blamed the military’s shifting priorities for the shrinking pilot pipeline. “The military is producing far fewer pilots today than it was during the Cold War,” Kirby told Axios on HBO over the weekend.