Travelers are returning to the skies in 2022 for domestic and international flights. This summer will be the busiest travel season since the Covid-19 pandemic began. However, many flights are being canceled or delayed. What is the root cause? Here are a few factors you should know about if you plan to travel.
Pilot Shortages Are The Primary Reason
Many delays and cancellations are because of an industry-wide pilot shortage. In addition, the legacy carriers and regional operators don’t have enough staff for various reasons.
As a result, airlines are combining routes or discontinuing services when necessary to offset staffing shortages. This move is similar to the height of the pandemic when carriers reduced to minimal service as travel demand plummeted.
However, consolidating flights to conserve pilots and reduce operating expenses isn’t as simple as waving a magic wand. Pilots can only fly planes they are certified to operate.
For example, a pilot certified for small commuter jets won’t be able to fly a long-haul “Big Bird” aircraft which is larger and holds more passengers.
These delays and the risk of cancellations are resulting in a record-high number of July 4th road trips this year. People prefer the flexibility of driving a vehicle despite the higher gas prices and inability to travel as far.
Long-Term Consequences From Pandemic Layoffs
Domestic and international airlines are still recovering from the staff layoffs in 2020 when the industry wasn’t sure how soon air travel would rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
That time is now, but former employees have changed occupations or don’t want to risk another layoff.
Pilots Are Retiring
Airlines are also enduring standard employee attrition as pilots retire faster than they can be replaced. Pilots also took voluntary leaves of absence during the pandemic as a cost-cutting measure to help keep airlines from going bankrupt.
The airline industry anticipates 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 comes from the 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.
Additionally, pilot salary and benefits are not as appealing as in the past. Pilots can earn competitive pay and better quality of life from other employers.
Additionally, the Federal Air Administration has a mandatory retirement age of 65 for pilots, which also speeds up the retirement date for some.
Airline pilot unions worldwide are coordinating labor strikes to protest low pay and longer hours. Because of the labor shortage and work-rest rules, existing flight crews are having to spend more time in the sky to move passengers from Point A to Point B.
Weather delays continue to be a common reason for flight disruptions. Extreme heat and severe storms are the primary culprits. This weather is even affecting regions that typically have calm summer weather, such as the northern midwest.
However, staffing shortages remain the primary reason flight itineraries experience delays and rescheduling.
Leisure travel demand is back to pre-pandemic levels for domestic trips, and international air travel is increasing quickly this summer. While people are ready to travel again, airlines are still adjusting to the rapid influx of demand. As a result, experiencing significant flight delays because of staffing shortages will be far too common this summer.
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