Travelers are returning to the skies in 2022 for domestic and international flights. This summer will be the busiest travel season since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, many flights are canceled or delayed. What is the root cause? Here are some factors you need to know if you are planning to travel.
Pilot shortages are the main reason
Many delays and cancellations are due to an industry-wide shortage of pilots. In addition, legacy carriers and regional operators are understaffed for a variety of reasons.
As a result, airlines are combining routes or discontinuing services when necessary to compensate for staff shortages. The move is similar to the peak of the pandemic when carriers were reduced to minimal service as travel demand plummeted.
However, consolidating flights to retain pilots and reduce operating expenses is not as simple as waving a magic wand. Pilots can only fly aircraft for which they are certified.
For example, a pilot certified for small commuter aircraft will not be able to fly a “Big Bird” long-haul aircraft which is larger and carries more passengers.
These delays and the risk of cancellations are leading to a record number of road trips on July 4 this year. People prefer the flexibility of driving a vehicle despite higher gas prices and the inability to travel that far.
Long-term consequences of pandemic layoffs
Domestic and international airlines are still recovering from staff layoffs in 2020, as the industry was unsure how quickly air travel would rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
That time has come, but former employees have either changed jobs or don’t want to risk another layoff.
Airlines are also experiencing standard employee attrition, as pilots retire faster than they can be replaced. Pilots have also taken voluntary leave during the pandemic as a cost-cutting measure to help prevent airlines from going bankrupt.
The airline industry predicts a shortage of 12,000 pilots this year. Only 8,000 pilots have been certified in the past year, according to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).
The lack of pilot supply stems from extensive training requirements, as pilots must have 1,500 qualifying flight hours. There is also a shortage of flight schools to accommodate the lengthy training process.
Also, pilot pay and benefits are no longer as attractive as they once were. Pilots can earn a competitive salary and a better quality of life from other employers.
Additionally, the Federal Air Administration has a mandatory retirement age of 65 for pilots, which also accelerates the retirement date for some.
Airline pilot unions around the world are coordinating strikes to protest low pay and longer hours. Due to labor shortages and work-rest rules, existing flight crews have to spend more time in the sky moving passengers from point A to point B.
Weather delays continue to be a common cause of flight disruption. Extreme heat and severe thunderstorms are the main culprits. This weather affects even areas that typically have calm weather in the summer, such as the northern Midwest.
However, staff shortages remain the main reason flight routes are experiencing delays and rescheduling.
Leisure travel demand has returned to pre-pandemic levels for domestic travel, and international air travel is increasing rapidly this summer. While people are ready to travel again, airlines are still adjusting to the rapid influx of demand. Therefore, experiencing significant flight delays due to understaffing will be all too common this summer.