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Travelgeddon is Upon Us

With car travel proving to be a challenge due to record-breaking gas prices and insane congestion on the highways, many Americans have chosen to fly this weekend, but maybe they chose wrong. Thousands of flight delays and cancellations are already happening for travelers wanting to get out of town for the 4th of July. Click below to see how the TSA intends to handle the madness.

SIMPLE FLYING: July 4th: What US Travelers Should Know About Flying This Year

Jonathan E. Hendry; June 30, 2022

Over 3.5 million passengers will take to the skies over the upcoming Fourth of July weekend in the United States. The Federal Holiday celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4th, 1776.

Today, the long weekend hosts an array of festive activities and is one of the busiest weekends to travel in the nation over the summer. It follows the Memorial Day long weekend at the end of May, which marks the beginning of the US summer season and saw 2,700 canceled and widespread disruptions across the country.

In the weeks since Memorial Day, over 21,000 flights have been canceled by US airlines, representing roughly 2.7% of the scheduled total flights during the period, almost double last year’s rate. The recent Father’s Day and Juneteenth holiday weekend also saw significant cancellations, with 6% and 5% of flights canceled on Thursday and Friday of that weekend, respectively.

Independence Day 2022 expectations

An estimated 3.5 million passengers will travel over the holiday weekend, making it the second busiest since the year 2000. Friday, July 1st is shaping up to be the busiest day for air travel during the holiday weekend of June 30th – July 4th, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), with Monday, July 4th being the lightest.

This past Friday, June 24th, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 2.45 million air passengers, its highest daily number since February 2020. The increased traffic was despite weather and staffing issues resulting in travel disruptions, yet remained below the 2.73 million fliers on the same day in 2019. Friday also saw 711 flights canceled and more than 6,000 delayed.

There is also an increasing demand for international flights over the Independence Day weekend. Up to 40% of all flight reservations during the holiday weekend will be to international destinations as US travelers seek to take advantage of pandemic-era restrictions ending overseas. The top global destination for the period is the city of London, which has seven airlines serving the New York City area alone this summer.

The entire industry also is hampered by severe staff shortages worldwide. The US is facing staff shortages, especially among pilots, and industrial action has continued throughout the year. This summer has also seen a lack of Air Traffic Controllers, a situation the FAA is actively looking to address but has had far-reaching ramifications.

What is being done this year?

The FAA has issued calls for airlines to meet customer expectations ahead of the long weekend. The United States Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, met with airline industry executives earlier this month and specifically urged them to focus on ensuring smooth operations over the upcoming holiday.

Major US airlines have withdrawn an estimated 15% of their schedules this summer compared to what was initially envisioned for June – August at the beginning of the year. Delta Air Lines announced it would be cutting roughly 100 flights a day between July 1st and August 7th, and JetBlue cut its summer flight schedules by close to 10%.

United Airlines announced it would cut 50 daily departures from its New York City hub at Newark Liberty International Airport, starting on July 1st. The airline’s chief operations officer Jon Roitman said the temporary cuts should help address congestion and help minimize delays to improve on-time performance and will not affect any other United hubs. A spokesperson for the airline shared its travel predictions when reached for comment by Simple Flying:

“We anticipate the Fourth of July travel period to be amongst our busiest travel days of 2022 thus far.”

“For the Fourth of July travel period, we anticipate nearly 5.2M customers will fly with United. This is more than a 24% increase from 2021 and about 92% of the customers we flew in 2019.”

Fellow legacy carrier Delta Air Lines will significantly allow customers to change their flights for free and waive any resulting difference in fare over the holiday weekend. The systemwide fare difference travel waiver covers travel booked for July 1-4 and allows customers to rebook their trip before or after potentially challenging weekend travel days.

Delta expects to carry more customers from Friday, July 1st, through Monday, July 4th, than it has since before the pandemic. The SkyTeam carrier has confirmed it will not charge any fare difference or change fees, even on Basic Economy fares, as long as customers travel between the same origin and destination.

All customers whose tickets were issued on or before Tuesday, June 28th, 2022, are eligible, and rebooked travel must take place by July 8th, 2022.

When contacted by Simple Flying, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines confirmed the airline, which does not charge a change or cancelation fee, had not issued any fare-difference waivers for this weekend but noted the airline’s cancellation rate is among the lowest of ranked carriers. The airline has hired more than 14,500 Employees in the past 12 months to support operations and is on track to hire more than 10,000 Southwest Employees in 2022.

When asked how the airline was planning to cope with increased demand, a representative for Alaska Airlines highlighted the carrier’s low cancelation rate, even as the company prepares to cope with a decreased workforce due to staff sickness:

“We’ve pulled every lever in our control to increase our stability this summer, resulting in a strong June in which we completed over 99% of our flights. This reliability came from the combination of proactively trimming our summer schedule earlier this spring and hiring and training thousands of new frontline employees.”

“Like the communities in which we live and serve, we continue to experience positive COVID cases among our employees, which adds some uncertainty to our staffing levels beyond what we can always plan for.”

How to make your travel easier this weekend.

Be kind to your flight attendants and check-in staff to make the whole process easier for everyone. Ground and aircrew have faced unprecedented pressure and demands throughout the crisis in the face of significant harassment from passengers. Former cabin crew Patricia outlined Five ways to make your cabin crew’s life easier for Simple Flying earlier this month.

Check with your airport and airline before departing for your trip. Many airports and most airlines have an active social media presence and flight tracking capabilities on their websites and often mobile applications to verify the status of your flight before departures. Additionally, it might be helpful to pack more essentials in a carry-on bag as airports worldwide are struggling to process baggage, with customers waiting days to receive checked bags.

Passengers traveling internationally can also expect significant disruptions this summer. Several major hubs in Europe have been seeing substantial delays and cancellations, with some airports going as far as to cap summer arrivals to reduce congestion.

For passengers arriving in the US this summer, ensure all your information is up to date with the airline as phone numbers and email addresses, to provide timely notification of flight changes. Arriving visitors who need an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) must get the document approved in advance or face potential delays at the airport.

For those traveling by car, the most significant congestion on highways in major cities will take place on the afternoons of Thursday, June 30th, 2022, and Friday, July 1st, 2022.

Photo: Charlotte Douglas International Airport

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