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Airlines Commit to Providing Meals and Hotel Rooms After Canceled Flights

Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, put pressure on major airlines to improve their customer service policies when passengers face flight disruptions.

In a letter to the CEOs of major airlines, Buttigieg requested they provide meals if there is a flight delay for more than three hours and hotel accommodations for overnight cancellations within the airline’s control.

“When passengers do experience cancellations and delays, they deserve clear and transparent information on the services that your airline will provide, to address the expenses and inconveniences resulting from these disruptions.”

The Department of Transportation also revealed an online dashboard last week which gives passengers information on which airlines provide accommodations in case of a cancellation or delay. Buttigieg notified airline executives that the department would unveil the dashboard by Sept. 2.

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DOT officials claim that leading airlines made significant policy changes within two weeks of unveiling the dashboard. According to Buttigieg, the dashboard acts as a “tool for transparency” and is not intended to shame the airlines.

If airlines fail to keep their obligations, passengers may file a complaint.

The airlines currently listed on the dashboard include Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United.

If a cancellation or delay were to occur, the dashboard checks if the airline will rebook the passenger on its airline or another airline at no cost. It also checks if the airline will provide meals or meal vouchers if flights are delayed three or more hours and pay for overnight hotel accommodations. It even lists if the airline will cover transportation from and to the hotel.

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Data from the Department of Transportation shows that in the first six months of 2022, roughly 24% of domestic flights were delayed, while 3.2%  were canceled. Since the start of June, more than 45,000 flights have been canceled.

The statistics became so dire that the attorneys general of 40 states banded together to write a letter to congress about the aviation industry’s inability to live up to its responsibilities to customers.

“The mistreatment of airline consumers is a bipartisan issue—one that requires immediate action from federal lawmakers. Flying is essential to millions of Americans as they go about their personal and professional lives and is critical to our local, state and national economies. Customers booking airline tickets should enjoy a reasonable expectation of being treated fairly, respectfully, and consistently under the law throughout all interactions during their experience with the airline industry.”

The upcoming holiday season will strain the current system further. Due to staff shortages, airlines have been reducing their scheduled number of flights. For their July schedules, 11 major U.S. airlines trimmed their schedules by 19,000 flights.

Buttigieg said that the department would fine airlines if they do not fulfill the obligations they claimed on the dashboard. However, it would be one small part of “a bigger framework.”

flight

Domestic Airfare To Drop 40% In Fall Months After Pricey And Demanding Summer Travel

After a summer that saw airline prices, staffing shortages, and flight cancellations abound, domestic travelers will get some much-needed relief this fall according to a new report by Hopper, the travel booking data platform.

According to Hopper, domestic airfare will drop to $286 in August, down 25% compared to May’s airfare and over 10% from July’s. Meanwhile, September and October will see drops of about 40% ($238 for a domestic round-trip) from the peak summer months.

Though that estimated price doesn’t match September 2021’s average domestic airfare of $225, it does beat out October of last year’s $240. Hopper noted this year’s August to October drop is abnormally large because of those high prices and earlier-than-usual travel demand peaks.

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International round-trip airfare, meanwhile, will decrease 19% ($179) to an average of $754 in September and October. It’s a massive drop, but unfortunately nowhere close to September ($641) and October ($706) of 2021.

Those prices are also helped by the fact that airlines are attempting to combat the slow season by offering better deals for travelers as a way to “incentivize travelers to plan one more trip before the holiday season,” Hopper explained.

“For travelers who held off on summer trips given the soaring airfares, this lower demand season can mean lower fares and less crowded tourist destinations!”

Among the most trending fall domestic destinations include Seattle ($419 average round-trip), Asheville, North Carolina ($313), Jackson, Wyoming ($460), Hilton Head, South Carolina ($315), and all cities in Hawaii ($500 and under).

As for international destinations, Sydney, Australia ($1,394), Tokyo, Japan ($1,333), Bali, Indonesia ($1,951), and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam ($1,085) are all trending with flyers looking to explore the world while capitalizing on a deal.

Unfortunately, flyers don’t have much time to take advantage. October and November will see slow rises before airfare takes a gigantic boost to $368 in December, with last-minute holiday bookings sitting at $390.

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Travelers have had to bear the burden of airline shortcomings after the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the air travel industry. According to the Bureau of Transportation, 88,161 flights have been canceled already this year, over 55,000 more than in 2021.

While the number won’t come close to 2020’s 263,941 canceled flights, it already ranks higher than any yearly total from 2013 to 2019. Toward late July, Hopper reported travel delays had risen to 25% of departures, equaling more than 5,000 flights a day. They aren’t likely to subside anytime soon.

Of course, the high prices experienced just aren’t due to the multitude of airline struggles, but inflation as a whole. Airfare has suffered the second-worst 12-month price change with 27.7%, second behind gasoline (44.0%).

Even with the potential problems, taking advantage of decreased savings before they — and the tourists paying them — begin to ramp up again in the winter could be intriguing if you’ve been itching to add one more pin to your map of America or the world.

luggage

Lost Luggage Seeing A Surge During Summer Travel Months

Think of all the frustrations that could occur at the airport. Check-ins. Delays. Cancellations. All are sure to give you headaches, but perhaps the worst possible scenario is arriving at your destination, only to find that your luggage is nowhere to be seen.

Not only does lost luggage turn countless valuable hours into a full-on manhunt, but in the event that baggage isn’t found, money will have to be spent on clothes and other necessities. And unfortunately, that’s becoming more of a possibility than ever.

According to data by the Department of Transportation, almost 220,000 bags were “mishandled” — either lost, damaged, delayed, or stolen — by airlines in April. That’s 0.55 mishandlings per 100 bags enplaned.

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American Airlines Network led the way in mishandling with nearly 65,000 (0.72 per 100), while Alaska Airlines Network came in second with almost 16,000. Those 220,000 mishandlings are up from around 93,000 in April of 2021.

The crisis of lost luggage could be seen as the result of a number of factors. For one, travel has seen rapid increases since the reduction of COVID-19 protocols. On July 20, 2.2 million passengers were screened by the Transportation Security Administration, up from 1.9 million a year ago.

Airline and airport staffing is also lacking. Those shortages have resulted in putting the industry on track for the most cancellations in a non-pandemic year, and have an equally frustrating impact on baggage handling.

“When you hit a rough patch in your operations, the bags are going to be affected probably even more so than customers,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said, whose airline sent a whole plane to retrieve 1,000 stranded bags at London’s Heathrow Airport last week. It’s a problem some travel analysts expect to carry into 2023.

If you find yourself in this situation, there are a number of actions to take. The first should be to immediately go to the baggage claim office, as some airlines have a certain number of hours you must file a claim within.

One of the most important tips to remember is that airlines are required to compensate you for the bag’s content: domestic flights have a maximum of $3,800 in compensation, while international flights are $1,800. Bag check fees are also refunded.

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“The financial compensation is helpful, because that’s not money you’d have spent ordinarily,” NerdWallet travel expert Sara Rathner told MSNBC. However, you won’t receive the money immediately. Airlines have different timelines for when they deem a bag lost, with some taking up to two weeks.

Traveling light by simply bringing a carry-on is also an excellent strategy, though one that might only work for a brief trip instead of a longer excursion. In the event you do check your bag, make sure to pack an additional set or three of clothes in your carry-on.

If your luggage gets lost and isn’t eventually found, you’ll at least have outfits to carry you over for a bit until you can replenish your wardrobe. The same applies to medicine and toiletries that might be critical to your health and hygiene.

Additionally, ensure that nothing of value, like electronics or jewelry, is placed into your checked bag as airlines are unlikely to cover the costs.

travel

Despite Increased Prices, OAG Study Shows Travel Demand Remains Strong

Despite increasing inflation and prices in nearly every industry, that hasn’t stopped travel-hungry explorers from embracing a world that’s slowly moving away from the COVID-19 pandemic that’s now in its 31st month.

According to a survey from OAG that interviewed more than 1,400 North American travelers, 27% more people are traveling this summer than in the summer of 2021, while nearly 63% of travelers have booked or are planning to book international flights, a number that’s up from 49% in 2021.

The increased demand comes at a time where both airlines and countries are easing restrictions — like no longer requiring pre-departure COVID-19 tests — that have become commonplace within the last two years.

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However, the survey shows some travelers remain wary of embracing remaining protocols. 30% say that COVID-19 protocols have no impact on where they travel, while 22% say those protocols have significant impacts on their bookings.

The nationwide mask mandate that was lifted in April still retains an extremely divisive reaction. 51% believe it should be in place for airplanes and airports, while 49% are happy to be able to walk around mask-free.

In regards to individual ticket prices, most passengers aren’t afraid to break out the wallet in the face of upticks. 79% of respondents said they were just as likely to buy a ticket with a price increase of $50, while 43% said they were just as likely to buy one with a $100 jump.

On the opposite side, only 4% said they were unlikely to buy a ticket with a $50 price increase, while that number was 15% for $100 increases. From $200 to $300 is where travelers start to bulk: only 4% said they’re okay with a price increase of $300, as opposed to 68% who are extremely less likely.

In the last year, the consumer price index for airline tickets rose by 25%, the highest jump since tracking began in 1989. April saw a 18.6% increase alone. The national average fare currently sits at $327.13.

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Of course, COVID-19 and inflation aren’t the only concerns passengers have to worry about. Airlines have also been affected due to pilot and staff shortages, leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights throughout the packed summer months.

That kind of effect was obvious during this past Fourth of July weekend, where more than 4,900 flight delays and 500 cancellations were reported the evening of July 1. Overall, the holiday weekend saw 1,435 flights cancelled from July 1 to July 4, according to FlightAware. Additionally, one in five flights experienced disruptions.

Even with mishaps like that, 54% of respondents said staffing shortages have little to no affect on their travel effect, while only 34% said staffing shortages negatively affect their travel experience.

So why is the demand sky-high right now despite all the potential barriers and negatives? Some experts have called it a case of “revenge travel.” While not an official term, it’s the idea that because of the pandemic, travelers are wanting to make up for lost time and moments.

“It’s a proclamation of “Screw you, COVID, I can travel and I’m going to,” CIRE Travel owner Eric Hrubant told NPR. Hrubant advised that those who do want to travel might be better off waiting until the fall, where they can see lower prices, less crowds, and a wider selection of possible destinations to visit.

Flights Cancelled

Airlines Set To Cancel Thousands Of Flights Due To Staffing Shortage

Unless you happen to have a Boeing in your backyard and a pilot’s license in your pocket, you may be in trouble of missing out on a flight to your next vacation destination. Across the country, airlines are cutting thousands of flights ahead of the summer travel season due to pilot shortages.

No airline has suffered more than Southwest, which has cut around 20,000 flights from June to Labor Day. It’s also pushed up its yearly hiring goal by 2,000 to 10,000. Meanwhile, Delta Airlines stated it was cancelling 100 daily flights from July 1 to Aug. 7 in the U.S. and Latin America, with 517 total flights canceled in June and 700 cut over Memorial Day weekend.

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Similarly, American Airlines is also affected, with CEO Robert Isom confirming the airline had to ground 100 regional flights due to the shortage. “There is a supply and demand imbalance right now, and it really is within the regional carrier ranks,” Isom stated at an investor’s conference.

“We have probably a hundred aircraft — almost a hundred aircraft that aren’t, aren’t productive right now, that aren’t flying.”

Ironically, “reliability” was Isom’s biggest priority when he took the helm of American back on March 31. “People really need to feel like they have control of their itineraries and we give them control by making sure they get to where they want to go on time,” he said at the time. “I just can’t be any more blunt about it than that.”

The shortage has become so prevalent that some airlines are cutting down on the number of requirements potential pilots have to go through in order to fly. Delta previously announced in January it would end its requirement for pilots to have four-year degrees, while Republic Airways asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to hire pilots from its LIFT academy when they reach 750 flight hours instead of the required 1,500.

“Republic is not proposing overturning the 1500-hour rule or weakening safety; to the contrary, we are proposing a more intensive, mission-specific training pathway similar to what is permitted for military pilots under current law,” Republic CEO Bryan Bedford told Business Insider.

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Reports also suggested that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC.) could propose a legislation that would raise the retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67, a fix that could help to maintain the current workforce number over the short-term, however low it may be.

It’s not just U.S. airlines that are suffering, either. Germany’s flag carrier, Lufthansa — the second-largest airliner in Europe — and its subsidiary Eurowings announced they were scrapping 1,000 flights in July, while airlines like Irish’s Ryanair, Switzerland’s easyJet, and Spain’s Volotea are seeing strikes.

It’s certainly a problem that doesn’t have an easy and quick solution, and one that might not be ending anytime soon. Back in March, Republic CFO Joseph Allman forecasted the shortage reaching its worst in the second and third quarters of 2023, expecting the industry to be short 8,000 pilots next year.

Unfortunately for travelers, turning to road trips instead of dealing with flight uncertainty may not be a slam dunk either after the national gas price rose above $5 on Thursday. In California, drivers are facing prices up to an agonizing $6.40 per gallon.

Airport TSA

TSA Warns Of Travel ‘Hiccups For Very, Very Busy Summer’

David Pekoske, the nation’s TSA chief, and airport and airline leaders throughout the nation have stated that there will be inevitable “hiccups” this summer, as the agency is expecting the largest airport passenger crowds since the Covid-19 pandemic first began. 

Pkoske said that labor shortages and an increased demand for travel have already begun to overwhelm airlines. The agency is gearing up to deploy as many as 1,000 TSA agents and K-9 units to the nation’s busiest airports to ideally counter any potential delays at security checkpoints. 

“We expect the summer to be very, very busy. That’s not to say that there will not be some hiccups along the way — those things will happen, but we’ll do everything we can to recover quickly.”

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Some expect airport crowds surpass 3 million passengers per day on the busiest travel days for the summer. The increased demand for travel has also led to pilots complaining about fatigue and flight cancellations heading into the summer at airlines including American Airlines, Southwest, Alaska, and Delta. 

 “Everybody is facing labor shortages; airlines and TSA are no different. At just about every level you can think of in the airline industry we can speak of we’re having labor shortages,” said Paul Doell, vice president for the National Air Carrier Association.

Airline restaurants and car rental companies have also been dealing with labor shortages. Customer service call centers for airlines and passengers who need wheelchair assistance, as well as ground airport employers, have also been struggling to maintain a steady supply of workers to deal with the demand for flights. 

Airlines themselves are cutting thousands of flights from their schedules as a means of helping scheduled flights run on time. This also means that TSA agents and other airline workers will likely have to work harder to get travelers to their flights on time.

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“But regional air carriers, which fly about 43% of all scheduled flights in the U.S., say they are facing labor shortages as employees such as pilots are being poached by the larger airlines. That could create issues connecting smaller destinations to larger hub airports,” said Kevin Burke, head of Airports Council International-North America.

“The pilot shortage is impacting the regionals, and we expect to see the small communities hit the hardest. We expect this to continue to be a trend, but those pain points will assert themselves at hubs as well.”

Pekoske warned that “many travelers this summer could be getting on a plane for the first time in three years, especially as masking and Covid-19 restrictions have fallen in many parts of the country and international travel restrictions are being lifted.”

“The amount of people that worked concessions prior to the pandemic are not there now, they’ve come back, but they’re nowhere near where they need to be,” Burke explained. 

“So we really ask that we try to have patience and understanding when they are dealing with employees at the airport. Everybody’s trying to do the best job they can to make sure this is safe, secure and also as comfortable as it can be under normal circumstances but especially when you have those tough days where you have storms that are disrupting the system,” Doell said. 

With A Colorful New Look And Identity, Condor Airlines Reopens Routes To U.S.

Condor Airlines, which have caught the attention of the travel world due to it’s colorful rebranding, has announced the restoration of non-stop routes from the U.S., marking the first time this has happened since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Airline Violence Rages On As The Work Environment For Flight Attendants Is Deemed “Hostile”

As more and more passengers are returning to the skies following the pandemic, airlines are seeing a worrisome rise in violence – so much so that International President of Flight Attendants Sarah Nelson stated flight attendants are now having to serve in a “hostile work environment.”

Speaking to The Washington Post, Nelson explained that they’re on track to have had more incidents of disruptive passengers than in the “entire history” of aviation, and flight attendants unfortunately take the brunt of that anger. Additionally, Nelson said that 61% of incidents include homophobic, racial, and gender slurs.

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Data released by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) shows that in 2021, 5,114 disruptive passenger incidents have occurred – which is 5.6 incidents per 10,000 flights. The FAA has levied around $225,287 in total fines against passengers who committed assaults, and over $1 million against passengers that engaged in unruly behavior.

The rise is more than evident. The total unruly passengers investigations initiated in 2021 is at 973. That’s up from 183 in 2020 and the highest since 2004, which had 310. Speaking to Fox Business, Nelson stated the disruptions are being felt across the industry, and are not limited to just one company.

“It doesn’t matter airline you fly for. When flight attendants see another flight attendant getting punched in the face, bloodied, abused, we all feel it.”

The mental state of attendants has taken a big hit. One employee told CCN Travel they’re exhausted both physically and emotionally.

On Nov. 13, a Texas passenger assaulted a Southwest Airlines employee by punching them in the head following a “verbal altercation” during boarding. The passenger was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, while the attendant was hospitalized. A similar incident occurred with a Californian passenger on an American Airlines flight two weeks ago.

COVID-19 can be blamed for some of the uptick in violence. Of the 5,114 total incidents, 3,710 of them — around 72.5% — involved passengers refusing to follow mask mandates, which calls for masks to be worn throughout the entire duration of a flight.

In response to these altercations, airlines have taken a number of measures. Forbes notes some have prohibited alcohol on flights and alerting authorities. On Jan. 13, the FAA signed an order — the “Zero Tolerance Policy” – forcing stricter legal enforcement on misbehaving passengers.

Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg has suggested that a federal no-fly list for violent passengers “should be on the table.” “It is completely unacceptable to mistreat, abuse, or even disrespect flight crews,” Buttigieg said. “There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment of flight crews in the air, or any of the essential workers from bus drivers to air crews who get people where they need to be.”

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Airlines and their employees still have the holiday season to get through. According to AAA, air travel is expected to be up 80% from last year, which is just below 9% from 2019 levels. 53.4 million Americans are expected to travel either by land, sea, or air. Holiday travel is typically followed by delays or cancellations of flights, which could be a poor mixed with the all-time high tensions.

Some flight attendants have considered quitting due to the abuses, which has led Southwest to offer perks — such as travel rewards — to attendants in order to avoid staff shortages during the busiest travel time of the year.

Demand For Air Travel Dropping Exponentially As Delta Variant Continues To Spread 

The demand for air travel has begun to plummet as the delta variant of the Covid-19 virus continues to spread rapidly. According to reports from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), cancellations have been on the rise this month alongside less passenger loads and lower air fares. 

TSA reported that 1.7 million people were screened nationwide this Tuesday, the lowest number of air travelers in nearly two months. Southwest Airlines also claimed to see an uptick in cancellations according to their recent financial filings. 

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Southwest is predicting that the surge in cancellations will continue into September should the US not get the virus and its variants more under control. Many major US airlines were looking forward to the coming months due to an overall decrease in cases and spreading of the virus, but the delta variant has them all taking on a new attitude. 

Travel booking site Hopper claimed that the domestic demand for travel hasn’t been this low since after the fourth of July. 

“What we saw was that mid-July was one of our best booking weeks ever, so the domestic bookings were really strong in mid July, but on the domestic front we have seen bookings be pretty flat since then,” Hopper economist Adit Damodarn said.

Damodarn explained how international bookings have been hit even harder due to the increase in spreading and lack of proper vaccine rollout in many international countries. 

“I think there’s a lot going on here that’s making people think twice about traveling. One of the big concerns for people going internationally is the chances of even if you’re vaccinated or getting an infection seem to be going up.”

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“It may not be severe, but it does mean that you might not be able to come back into the U.S. for some time just because of the testing requirement. So with that I think you’re scaring some people off. And then, of course, we have the just general concern about getting sick, going to places where there is more virus,” Founder of crankyflier.com Brett Snyder said. 

Hopper also noted that more fliers have been purchasing “cancel-for-any-reason” flight insurance since the variant began spreading more rapidly in July. 

“The rate in which people are purchasing flight insurance is up about 33% when compared to last month. So I think what we’re seeing here is a little bit of hesitancy.”

Average air booking prices are currently down $76 on average as well. 

“We’re seeing a significant drop in domestic and international airfare. It’s a little bit more than the seasonality that we have seen in prior years, and so that would suggest to us that there’s both the seasonal variation coming off the peak summer travel season, as well as the impact of the delta variant,” Damodarn said.

American Airlines

United Airlines Now Requiring All US Employees To Get Covid-19 Vaccinations 

United Airlines will now require all of its 67,000 US employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19 by October 25th or they will risk termination. This is a first for major US travel agencies that will likely ramp up the pressure for rival services. 

Airlines have mainly been offering incentives for vaccinated employees, like extra pay or time off for being inoculated. Delta Air Lines in May started requiring all new employees show proof of vaccination in order to get hired and United followed suit in June. 

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United’s requirements mark the strictest mandate implemented by a travel service in the US so far. Other companies like Facebook and Walmart have announced that they are requiring all corporate employees to show proof of vaccination before returning to the office. 

 United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart sent out a note to all employees this Friday detailing why this requirement is so important for the future of the company and air travel in general. 

“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”

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The note detailed that United Airlines employees must upload proof that they received either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s single dose five weeks after federal officials give them approval, or by October 25th, whichever comes first. 

The mandate will not apply to regional airlines that fly shorter express flights for United. 

About 90% of all pilots and 80% of all flight attendants working for United Airlines claim to already be fully vaccinated, according to company officials. So the mandate is more so for employees working on the ground in the airports who see tens of thousands of flyers every day. 

About 60% of all American Airlines pilots are also vaccinated, according to a letter from the company’s union, the Allied Pilots Association, which has been working to get more employees vaccinated. 

The rise in Covid-19 cases last fall combined with the new highly-contagious Delta variant is motivating travel employees to create new ways to protect themselves from future travel. Time will tell what other agencies will follow United’s lead in terms of vaccination requirements.