These days, it’s a gamble when flying commercially whether your flight will leave on time... or at all.
Air travel in 2023, unfortunately, will be just as unpredictable as the last few years. Passengers can book flights months in advance and confirm seat assignments, but just days or even hours before departure, airlines can cancel flights with little or no explanation.
During December’s holiday rush, Southwest Airlines’ failures led to the cancelation of more than 15,000 flights from Dec. 22 to 29. It meant people could not see their loved ones for Christmas or enjoy a much-needed vacation. It meant people could not return to work on time. It meant people had to rent cars and drive through the night to reach their destinations.
Southwest wasn’t the first airline to experience a major meltdown. In fact, most of the major carriers and budget airlines have faced a travel crisis since 2020. In 2023, six issues will continue to impact whether commercial airlines will continue being a gamble for passengers:
Staffing: At the pandemic’s outset, airlines laid off, furloughed or offered early retirement to thousands of pilots, flight attendants and crew. Many employees opted to change careers, leaving airlines short-staffed once travel rebounded.
• Computers: Airlines, like all businesses, rely on computers to function. Computer glitches or outages are not isolated to one flight or airport; they can have a domino effect and impact an airline’s worldwide operation, bringing travel to a standstill.
• Business philosophy: For decades, airlines have overbooked flights, a practice that increases per-flight revenue because a handful of customers typically cancel or fail to arrive on time. When they all show up, though, airlines have no choice but to bump passengers to a later flight.
• Weather: Foul weather in a city can prevent jets from departing or arriving, and those delays can have crippling effects in places where the weather is perfect.
• Fees: Consumers are pushing back against fees that inflate ticket prices. Airlines charge extra for seat assignments, baggage, boarding priority, overhead bin spaces, legroom, snacks and beverages. What used to be a perk now costs extra.
• Sickness: With staffing at precariously low levels, any outbreaks of the flu or resurgence of COVID-19 can further strain the airlines’ workforce.
With commercial travel being a roll of the dice, it’s entirely possible that many Americans will forgo potential complications on shorter routes and simply drive to their destination. AAA predicted a 2% increase in the number of people driving to their holiday destinations in 2022; that equates to 2 million people. Meanwhile, affluent travelers continue booking private jets for leisure and business travel, an option that virtually guarantees a stress-free, on-time arrival.
The new year always brings a sense of hope and renewal. Whether airlines can flip the page and make adjustments remains to be seen.
About the author
Stephen Myers, CAM, of Naples, is an FAA-certified pilot and executive vice president at Elite Jets in Naples.