Summer travel was chaotic in 2022. Will it be any different this year? (2023)

Airlines are predicting another busy summer for travel, but this year could see a significant change from the chaotic summer holiday season of 2022.

After a year marked by soaring demand, expensive fares, cancellations and delays, more standard flight experiences could be in sight for passengers, industry watchers said. In many cases, airlines have created flight schedules that they hope will allow them to operate more reliably with their available staff. Demand and domestic air fares, while still high, are likely to level off.


But the upcoming summer travel season won't be entirely without its challenges. Demand for international flights has soared as fliers become more comfortable traveling to Europe and Asia, while overseas flight prices are also rising. And airlines continue to be under staffing pressure.

"We've learned a lot over the past year," American Airlines CEO Robert Isom told analysts during a first-quarter call in late April. "Let's be honest. The summer of 2022 was quite difficult.


Flight delays and cancellations are always high in the summer, but layoffs aren't expected to be as common this summer as they will be in 2022, said Hayley Berg, chief economist at travel app Hopper. Airlines had too many scheduled flights last summer, but have since hired employees and made more manageable flight plans, he said.

"I expect the normal level of disruption, not the incredible highs we saw last year," he said.

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One of the challenges faced by airlines in the summer of 2022 wasstaffing limitationsin their own businesses, airports and air traffic control towers, as travelers were eager to return after the pandemic closed. Airlines have faced a pilot shortage, and they haverushed to hire thousands of peopleto work in maintenance, airports and other roles.

But staffing remains a challenge, even as airlines fly more this summer. Several airlines have agreed to shorten routes to New York this summer at the request of the FAA, which has a severe shortage of air traffic controllers at a large facility on Long Island.

Southwest Airlines executives said in their first-quarter earnings call that they used fewer planes because they can't hire enough pilots. Later in the year, they expect that problem to turn into a shortage of planes due to delays in the delivery of Boeing planes, they said.

Southwest was still reeling from the busy December holiday season earlier this year, when the carriercanceled thousands of flightsas it struggled to catch up after a winter storm and its scheduling software couldn't keep up with the airline's complex flight network as weather-related cancellations began to flood in.

Such experiences, last summer's challenges and high airfares can leave a bad taste in travelers' mouths, said Katy Nastro, spokeswoman for the travel company Going. But this summer seems to be an improvement, he said.

Summer travel was chaotic in 2022. Will it be any different this year? (1)

Airlines, for their part, expect strong demand from travelers. Chicago-based United is expecting its busiest Memorial Day weekend in more than a decade, with nearly 2.9 million travelers expected to fly the airline between May 25 and 30. Friday, May 26 is expected to be the busiest day of the holiday season, and O'Hare International Airport is expected to be one of United's three busiest airports that weekend.


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American Airlines expects July 28 to be the busiest day of the summer, with an estimated 6,000 departures.

"It's not as strong as it was in '22, when you really saw that 'revenge travel' come back, especially on the leisure side," Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in April at the company's first-quarter earnings call . "But demand is very strong and it's strong across the board."

Demand is particularly strong for international travel. At United, international flights will account for 46% of the airline's capacity this summer, up from 43% in 2019.

This means that airline tickets for passengers are likely to be mixed. The average price for a domestic flight this summer is about $300, up from 2019 but down 19 percent from last summer's highs, Hopper said.

But prices for international flights are "unbelievably high," Berg said. Fares to Europe are up 37 percent from both 2022 and pre-pandemic prices, and airfares to Asia are up 60 percent from 2019, the most recent comparable year, he said.

That trend is driven in part by pent-up demand for international travel, says Kayla Inserra, consumer travel specialist at travel company Kayak. Even as domestic travel roared into 2022, international travel remained more difficult, and now that restrictions have been eased, passengers want to fly again.


Travel trends may bring good news for Chicago. According to Hopper and Kayak, the city is in the top 10 most searched domestic destinations.

The summer travel season comes as some of the biggest airlines operating out of Chicago face pressure from pilot unions. Southwest Airlines pilots voted overwhelmingly to strike, and United Airlines pilots recently joined picket lines as they push for a new contract.

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However, pilots are unlikely to strike during the busy summer travel season. Federal law makes it difficult for unions to strike in the airline industry, and the last strike at a US airline was more than a decade ago.


Garth Thompson, president of United's chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, said the airline's pilots had been negotiating a new contract for nearly five years. They are seeking improvements in quality of life, stricter rules for rescheduling work and wage increases, he said.

At Southwest Airlines, union president Casey Murray said the union did not take the approval vote lightly, but customers "need to be prepared for the future and coordinate with other airlines so that their summer and fall plans are not disrupted . He denounced a "lack of leadership and an unwillingness to address the failings of our organization."

Southwest said in a statement also issued earlier in May that the approval vote would not affect the airline's scheduled flights and that the airline was "staffed and prepared to welcome travelers for their summer travel."


American Airlines pilots also voted to strike, but on Friday they and the airline announced they had reached an agreement in principle on a new contract. The deal must be finalized and voted on by union members, but having a proposal takes some of the frustration out of the organization, union spokesman Dennis Tajer said.

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"That calms the high seas for now, and we hope it stays that way if members approve," he said.

US pilots had pushed, in part, for changes to flight schedules that the union said would allow for more advance planning, better work-life balance and more reliable operations from the airline.

Tajer said the details of the deal and the proposed pay increases have not yet been made public, but negotiators believed it satisfied the pilots' demands. The proposal also recognizes that Delta Air Lines, which raised wages by 34 percent over four years in a deal reached earlier this year, set the market rate for pilot wages, he said.

In a statement, American Airlines executives said pilots and other staff "deserve to be paid well and competitively," noting that the contract "provides our pilots with top pay and profit sharing with an improved quality of life." .”


Over the years, airline workers have taken industrial action that did not result in a strike, but still disrupted flights. Federal judgefined the American Airlines pilots union$45 million for a sick leave in 1999 that crippled the airline's operations, although the amount was later reduced. In 2019, a federal judge ordered unions representing America's aircraft engineers to stop what the airline said was delay.

Thompson, with United, said pilots do not plan to cause an operational stoppage this summer, but will continue to protest and could vote to strike if negotiations do not move forward.

"We're certainly not happy with the pace and where we're at with the negotiations and how long we've been negotiating, but we don't intend to bring that on our passengers," he said.

The Associated Press contributed.


Summer travel was chaotic in 2022. Will it be any different this year? ›

Airlines are predicting another busy summer for travel, but this year could bring key changes from the chaotic 2022 summer vacation season. After a year marked by sky-high demand, expensive fares, cancellations and delays, more typical air travel experiences could be in sight for flyers, industry observers said.

Will travel decrease in 2023? ›

49% of Americans Plan to Travel More in 2023

Despite the challenges that came with traveling last year, Americans still intend to travel in 2023. A resounding 87% of survey respondents expect to travel at least as much as they did in the prior year, with 49% selecting that they expect to travel more.

Has airline travel increased? ›

Air travel increased 4 times the rate of inflation in 2022; will 2023 be any better? The cost of airfare in the U.S. increased at about four times the rate of inflation in 2022, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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