Think airport crowds are bad? Wait until summer

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appetite for travel again after more than two years lockdowns and mask mandate debate led to one quite predictable result: many airports and airlines are not ready for a sharp increase in traffic, and all could get a lot worse this summer.

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Spring break 2022 provided an opportunity to see if air travel can expand to meet one of the biggest needs since the start of the Covid crisis. It was an industry test largely failedwith problems exacerbated by bad weather and thousands of canceled flights. Flyer stories refuse rental cars catch flights among the endless lines and pilots who have flown out of action (so to speak) and sleep in airports are becoming too common.

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Even at higher than inflation rise in airfare caused by increased fuel costs and other factors, airports expected to be packed this summer, at least unless there is a serious Covid variant hurting travel plans. What can you do to avoid chaos, or at least understand the factors at play? We spoke to some air travel experts about the situation and their navigation tips.

What causes these growls at US airports?

Many of the factors behind airport delays are linked to Covid-19: Demand has surged as travel restrictions have been lifted and some coronavirus cases have declined. High gasoline prices also put an end to long-distance travel for some. And more people get stuck in airports due to flight cancellations or delays caused by technical problems (for example, Southwest system crash in early April) or low staffing levels.

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Daniel Findlaydeputy director at Institute of Transport Research and Education in North Carolina, says the industry’s downsizing has created a lean system that leaves no room for error. especially when the weather comes into play.

“You see it, for example, from the side of pilots, flight crews, air traffic control, as well as from the supply chain and materials side. When something breaks, is there another pilot and flight crew that can come to the rescue when some critical engine part needs to be replaced?” Findlay says: “What is the cascade effect when in the morning the flight crew is not where they should be and there is no backup crew? Now you’ve missed a whole day of flights and those connections.”

The Great Retirement and other factors could also contribute to flight cancellations, delays on security lines and staffing issues, Findlay said. “There are other things, in particular, such as the retirement of pilots, but it is mainly due to Covid and the general labor market.”

Findlay says another big change that could drag on into the summer is that lingering Covid fears, Covid-related overseas travel restrictions and high airfare prices are forcing more Americans to forego international travel and stay in the United States, which contributes to the overcrowding of domestic airports.

“Whether they go to regional beaches or to national parks, it has affected our domestic market, perhaps in ways we didn’t expect,” he says.

How long will it last?

Retrenchment in airlines and airports, as well as among public security agents for air travel, were unprecedentedlargely due to a sharp drop in demand for air tickets in 2020 and 2021 when Americans stayed at home. It is not known how long it will take to restore staff, says William Rankin, professor of airport management at the Florida Institute of Technology. The closest thing we saw to this situation was after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“When 9/11 happened, we of course shut down the whole system for a few days. In general, it lasted three to four weeks (outages), but then the recovery time was probably six to nine months before we reached full capacity in terms of staff,” says Rankin. He says he “couldn’t even imagine” how long it might take after the pandemic.

Apart from all the other reasons for cancellations and long queues, some airports also deal with multi-year flights. construction projects this may result in passengers trying to find parking or re-routing gates. Such projects may take several years; some airports will have trouble handling large crowds next year, especially if staffing problems continue.

What can be done?

Airport construction, security concerns, and stories of airport crashes during the holidays can exacerbate delays. Frightened passengers who fear long lines and missed flights may arrive at the airport hours before they need to, leading to even more crowds.

“Sometimes this blocks the checkpoints, which affects the ability to cope with such bandwidth,” says Rankin. One solution to this problem, which was used after 9/11 in Fort Lauderdale, was to limit security checkpoints to two hours before a flight. If it becomes particularly crowded and difficult to manage this summer, Rankin said, this could be one tactic airports can use to control the flow of travelers.

For passengers, the best solution may be to simply have backup options and stay in the loop. Rankin suggests using apps for airlines and airports that provide real-time schedule information and alerts of delays rather than waiting for text messages or calling for updates. “The passenger has to be aware of the situation during the flight,” says Rankin.

Findlay says one sign that the airline industry is gearing up for a marathon of overcrowded airports is improved amenities. “You see airports with really good restaurants, comfortable places to stay, places to charge your phone. They recognize that people are spending more time at airports and are trying to make that experience as comfortable as possible… Airlines, airports and concessionaires must ultimately work together to provide the best possible customer experience.”

Findlay says he usually booked earlier flights with longer stops to account for possible delays or cancellations that could impact his itinerary. “I would rather have a four-hour layover and some wiggle room than a two-hour layover and miss my flight,” he says.

Other ways to counter bad news from the airport: If you live in multiple airports, use this to your advantage if you need to rebook your trip or get directions elsewhere. Some airlines have even included ground flights in their plans. Philadelphia has American Airlines. now there are buses on some routes to nearby airports.

Above all, Findlay urges, travelers should remember the wonder of air travel and should refrain from taking their frustrations out on airport staff, security or the airline.

“It is unlikely that you are talking to a person who has created any problems. They don’t want that either; they don’t want people to have a bad experience,” he says. “Keep in mind that at the moment we have a very simple system and there is very little that people can do.”

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