The great American return to travel following the pandemic has helped airlines in their recovery from a lousy few years. But with this rapid increase in consumer demand, we must remain patient with airlines as they adapt to the new normal that is now air travel.
During the pandemic airlines sustained massive loses with the industry short some $5.1 billion in 2021 alone. Although estimates suggest that demand this year will rise to 61% of 2019 levels, it will take the industry more than a few months to recover from the heavy blows of travel restrictions. Carriers are currently pouring their resources into building up their pre-pandemic capacity and ensuring they can give a reliable service before rushing to meet the influx of demand. Nevertheless, it would be unreasonable to assume service can go right back to the way it was after such an unpredictable couple of years.
American Airlines is the latest carrier to announce its more rosy predictions for the rest of 2022, with carriers such as Delta Airlines already having published that they expect their capacity to be around 95% of their 2019 levels in the second half of 2022. Domestic and Latin American travel is leading the way in the recovery, but with the summer vacations fast approaching and global restrictions easing airlines are hoping to see a rise in transatlantic travel this summer. Delta CEO Ed Bastian explained that this, however, is reliant on countries opening up. “When countries reopen,” he said, “we see a rapid restoration of demand. For example, following South Korea's border opening on April 1, we expect load factors to improve from the low 50s in March to the low 90s by June.”
The recent wave in demand has seen some airlines unable to commit to passengers, with thousands of travelers experiencing last-minute cancellations due to operational disruptions. This is largely due to two problems facing airlines right now: the increased price of fuel and labor, and a shortage of pilots. Despite the higher revenues seen this quarter, the cost of fuel in America has doubled from earlier this year. Further, the cost of labor has increased by more than 15%. Pilot shortages within the industry are also hampering operations, however, airlines such as American Airlines have already hired 1,100 pilots to deal with this. Meanwhile, Delta has announced that it is not constrained by the staffing issues it faced early this year, with plans to hire 4,000 new employees already bearing fruit.
As this optimism rises and more and more people decide that now is the time to travel, it’s important to not expect miracles from airlines. Delta airlines have already expressed that they will be prioritizing reliability over rushing to fill flights with Bastian stating, “The priority is to operate reliably and … not get ahead of demand.” Erring on the side of caution should be encouraged with instability in the industry and projections that this influx in demand could be short term it’s important for airlines to be safe, not sorry.
These are exciting times for air travel and airlines, following years of depressed demand we are now seeing travelers return to the skies. Fewer restrictions and a hunger to travel will be music to many airlines' ears, but customers should be considerate of the challenges airlines are experiencing and manage their expectations accordingly. Trust that airlines are working as hard as they can to get passengers in the sky, but still, cannot work miracles.