You know the old saying about a situation getting worse before it gets better?
The travel industry is thankful that the long Fourth of July holiday weekend – which had the potential to go from bad to worse based on a month of bad juju – seems to be getting progressively better despite prognostications of doom and gloom.
Air travel, in particular, was in the crosshairs. And while there’s still at least another day left to the holiday, as it’s rare people will travel today on the holiday itself, Tuesday’s departure day, like this past Friday’s arrival day, will tell the full story.
But, so far, airline delays and cancellations have dropped precipitously through the weekend. After more than 7,800 delays alone on Friday, July 1 into, out of or within the United States, the flight-tracking service FlightAware reported a total of 6,600 delays and cancellations on Saturday and 5,016 combined on Sunday.
As of 2 p.m. on Monday the 4th, there were only 1,538 delays and cancellations.
By comparison, the four-day Father’s Day/Juneteenth holiday weekend two weeks ago saw a combined 24,000 delays and cancellations. The Fourth of July should come in at less than that unless Tuesday turns out to be another chaotic fiasco.
But, also, consider the circumstances – pilot shortage, staffing shortage, bad weather and schedules previously trimmed by airlines for the summer. And consider the volume.
Sunday was the 29th consecutive day that the Transportation Security Administration processed at least 2 million passengers through security. That includes 2,490,490 fliers on Friday, July 1, the biggest day for airlines since a little more than 2.5 million passengers were screened on February 11, 2020, just before the pandemic was declared.
BREAKING NEWS: @TSA officers screened 2,490,490 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Friday, July 1. It was the highest checkpoint volume since Feb. 11, 2020, when 2,507,588 people were screened. We are back to pre-pandemic checkpoint volume.
— Lisa Farbstein, TSA Spokesperson (@TSA_Northeast) July 2, 2022
It’s not any better in Europe. Just today alone, Scandinavian airline SAS canceled 173 flights. According to CNBC, British Airways is prepping for a looming strike by workers who took a 10 percent pay cut during the pandemic and now want it reversed. Ryanair also faces a potential strike by workers later this month at airports in Spain.
“The pace at which passengers have returned to the skies since the springtime has caught airlines a little bit by surprise and airports too. They simply don’t have the staff right now that we would need for a full schedule summer,” Alexander Irving, European transport analyst at AB Bernstein, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”
From an automobile perspective, it was predicted prior to the holiday that 47.9 million people would hit the road in the U.S. to travel 50 miles or more from home during June 30-July 4. From this writer’s perspective, it seemed like all 47.9 million threw caution to the wind when it came to $5 a gallon gas and were on I-95 heading from New York to Florida – and yet the traffic flow was remarkably smooth.
During the 1,300+-mile trek, we encountered just three slowdowns – one for five minutes, one for six and one for 11, a percentage we would gladly take every time. At one point, taking a back road Florida State Road 301 to get from I-95 to I-75, we even did a triple take when we saw gas for $4.38 per gallon.
Travel experts in almost every genre talk about getting back to 2019 and pre-pandemic levels of volume. They are almost there, but now the question is whether staffing shortages and fuel prices and lack of pilots will continue to hamper the recovery.
Overall, the busy holiday travel weekend was not a horrendous experience for the majority. There will always be hiccups when traveling, but perhaps this weekend could serve as a turning point and we won’t have a “summer travel from hell.”
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