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Air Travel is a Mess Right Now. Here’s Why

From flight cancellations to lost luggage, traveling doesn’t sound very fun right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t navigate your vacation like a pro.

Rebecca Ki • August 9, 2022

In This Article

  1. What’s disrupting air travel right now
  2. A pilot shortage made worse by COVID 🧑‍✈️
  3. What to expect when traveling (and how to win) 💪
  4. FAQs (Frequently Asked Airline Questions) ✈️
  5. The runway rundown 🛬

If you’re planning on flying this summer, you’ll probably be gambling your trip on lost luggage, countless canceled flights, 3+ hour security line waits—and it doesn’t stop there. There is a travel crisis happening worldwide right now, and no, it’s not just because everyone on your Instagram decided to summer in Italy this year. What’s happening? 

Let’s get to the bottom of what’s going on in the air travel industry right now and discuss ways you can reduce the potential headache and vacation in peace! 

What’s disrupting air travel right now

Bad weather ⛈️

As much as we wish summertime were all sunshine and rainbows, the humid and turbulent air of late spring and summer creates the perfect storm (pardon the pun) for thunder and lightning. Unsurprisingly, aircraft cannot fly under these conditions due to severe turbulence and poor visibility. 

Summer storms are also much harder to predict. Meteorologists can see winter snow storms coming days in advance, giving airports ample time to prepare for and notify fliers days in advance. Many airport goers can be left stranded without a flight upon arrival because of the sudden nature of these thunderstorms.

Rising gas prices

Flying right now isn’t just a headache—it’s expensive! We know you’ve noticed those rising prices at your local gas station, but your wallet isn’t the only thing feeling the pressure. 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, gas and jet fuel prices have skyrocketed, and we see that change reflected in flight ticket prices. The New York Times has even reported that the average domestic flight costs $330 in March, a 7% increase from 2019! 

Pilot and airline staff shortage 🧑‍💼

Of all the reasons why air travel is so turbulent right now, the national pilot and airline staff shortage is #1. The pandemic disrupted the travel industry, and airlines immediately switched gears to focus on survival. That meant laying off staff, retiring pilots, and selling old planes. Delta shed 30% of its employees—nearly 30,000 people no longer work in the industry!

Now that travel has bounced back stronger than ever, what happens to airports and flights when you don’t have anyone to work the desks, keep track of the luggage, or fly the planes? 

The solution isn’t as simple as just hiring more workers. Airline pilot isn’t an entry-level job; it takes years of training and thousands of hours of flight practice to helm a commercial plane. No one wants to be sitting on a plane and hear, “Hello passengers, this is your pilot speaking, and I’m so excited to make this trip because I just graduated from flight school!” 

A pilot shortage made worse by COVID 🧑‍✈️

The American pilot shortage has been looming for years. Not having a pilot means severely delayed or canceled flights – they’re the most critical puzzle piece in getting a plane off the ground. 

During the pandemic, thousands of pilots took early retirement packages. Paired with a decline in pilot training programs, these retirements created record low numbers of pilots in the industry. But this problem didn’t start in 2020.

One of the barriers to becoming a pilot is costly training. Pilot school costs anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000. While financial aid is available, it often doesn’t cover the full price. Entry-level pilots have to pay these student loans out of their pocket. 

Some airlines have started their own programs and flight schools to train pilots, but it’s a long-term endeavor. The future of the aviation industry is uncertain, but one thing is for sure – there’s no quick solution to this pilot shortage, and we’ll be dealing with the effects for at least a few years. 

What to expect when traveling (and how to win) 💪

If you have a trip coming up, be sure to plan your airport strategy along with your vacation strategy! According to flight tracker FlightAware, nearly 176,000 flights were delayed between June 1 and June 29, and more than 20,000 – almost 3% of all flights – were canceled. 

Let’s discuss some potential issues you may face while in transit, the best ways to avoid the headache, and, if you’re lucky, get into the vacation mindset a little earlier!

Longer-er wait times ⏳

Less airport staff = fewer people available to help = longer wait times everywhere. From checking in to your flight to handing over checked luggage and getting through security, be prepared to wait a lot. And maybe wait some more.

🔥 Way to win: Get to the airport early! And we mean it—at least three hours before your flight. If you have to check luggage or fly internationally, arrive even earlier! To some, that might seem like overkill, but give yourself a safe window of time to make your flight. Save yourself the stress, arrive early, and celebrate being comfortably early with a coffee or drink before boarding. 

Overlapping connecting flights ✈️

As annoying as layovers can be, they’re sometimes necessary. When connecting flights in this travel climate, be proactive when booking to avoid another layer of panic to your travel day. 

🔥 Way to win: Book flights with long layovers. That 30 min gap might look tempting, but right now, flights are getting delayed in record numbers. We recommend at least an hour between flights – this is not the time to gamble your vacation on a short layover! 

Flight cancellations 🙅

Canceled flights are happening more often than ever, with 20,000 canceled flights this past June. Having your flight canceled is a huge inconvenience, but don’t panic! With some deep breaths and quick thinking, there’s always a solution.

🔥 Way to win: There are a few ways to make a canceled flight as stress-free as possible! First, always check your flight before you leave for the airport. Most of these decisions are not last minute, so save yourself a trip to the airport if you can.

If you’re already at the airport, we’re going to plan B. Head to the airline agents’ desk ASAP, and work on your solution while in line. Do you want to change your flight? Which one works best for you? If your airline rescheduled your flight, do you need a place to stay for the night? Approaching an airline agent with your solutions will make their jobs easier, and hopefully, they’ll be able to provide what you need. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Airline Questions) ✈️

How many flights are canceled today?

If you’re curious about flight stats today, FlightAware is a great source that provides real-time flight tracking data, including cancellations and delays. It can come in handy when you need up-to-date flight tracking information for yourself or your family and friends!

Where are the cheapest places to fly?

In the US, the most affordable places to fly are usually major cities with large (or many) airports. The competition between airlines keeps prices low. Think New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, or Chicago. These cities often offer economical flights from any city in America. However, if affordable flights are your goal and you’re feeling spontaneous, Scott’s Cheap Flights is a great resource that sends cheap flights right to your email inbox!

Many factors influence flight prices, from distance to the length of your stay. For comparing airline prices and dates, Google Flights is our favorite place to go flight shopping. 

How much do pilots make?

Looking to take advantage of that pilot shortage and make a career jump? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for commercial pilots is $93,300 per year. However, for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers, the median annual wage is $160,970. That includes company health, life and disability insurance, and retirement plans. Impressive, right? We’ll see you in the skies! 

The runway rundown 🛬

Due to the lack of pilots, unpredictable weather, and insufficient staffing, air travel isn’t likely to improve soon. The good news is that you’re now in the know on how to improve your travel experience. Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst – now you’re ready for take-off! 

There are also plenty of ways to have fun this summer without stepping foot on a plane. Road trips are affordable, accessible, and a great way to explore a new place and bond with your best friends. Not a car person? A summer staycation may be just what the doctor ordered! Get creative and stretch your boundaries; you might even learn something new about the place you call home. The possibilities are endless! 💚

Looking for more 🔥 ways to win at the airport and in your wallet? Apply for Chime today to  Pay Anyone, build credit, and grow your savings – all in the app!

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