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This Summer Was a Chaotic Mess at Airports. Holiday Travel Will Be No Better

If you haven’t already, book your holiday travels now!

Travel plans derailed this summer. There were multiple causes: a surge in demand, a lack of staff, inflation and the rising cost of gas, and a massively unprepared industry. Airlines had to trim off their schedules, airports had to cap daily passenger numbers just to keep up, and still, it was far from smooth sailing. Cancelations, delays, long queues, and misplaced luggage have caused a lot of heartaches this summer, and so have high prices for absolutely everything.

As summer gives way to fall, all eyes are on holiday travel. And the most important question right now is: Will it be a repeat of Nightmare Summer of 2022?

Prepare for the Worst. Again.

From pilots and crew to mechanics and baggage handlers, the industry is short on every resource. According to Oxford Economics, there were 2.3 million fewer people working in the aviation sector globally in September 2021 compared to pre-pandemic

When airlines received buyouts from the U.S. government, the deal dictated that they couldn’t fire staff, so they found a loophole and offered voluntary retirement instead. But the move backfired as vacationers took to the skies again. Now there isn’t enough crew available to work the ambitious pre-pandemic schedules airlines hoped to run. Everyone wants to hire quickly, but the job market is tight, and the working conditions aren’t attractive, so people aren’t lining up for these jobs. To make matters worse, in Europe, unhappy staff are walking out of their jobs and striking for better pay and conditions.

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The data from online flight analyzer OAG shows that the global capacity of airlines is still lower than in 2019, and it will fall further in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the TSA checkpoint numbers are climbing to pre-pandemic levels. Phil Dengler, the co-founder of The Vacationer, predicts that winter travel will resemble pre-pandemic levels. But he also says that airlines will continue to struggle. “The demand is going to outweigh the supply of pilots, and flights are inevitably going to get delayed and canceled.” 

He recommends monitoring FlightAware’s Misery Map to see the worst airports in terms of delays and cancellations to avoid destinations with high cancellation and delay rates.

Preemptively, American Airlines has canceled 31,000 flights in November after a slim schedule for the summer. Many others are likely to trim their schedules to manage operations better, so you might have to fight for limited seats if you don’t book in advance. Your best bets are direct, early-morning flights, and as little luggage as possible. 

Related: Airline Overbooked Your Flight? Hold Out and You May Be Compensated Handsomely

Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, is more positive about the situation, and he’s expecting less travel chaos. He says, “While there may be some days going in the fall and winter with widespread delays and cancellations (especially when there’s bad weather), it’s unlikely we’ll see things nearly as bad with air travel as it was in May and June.”

Book Now!

Flight prices have been falling after rocketing up this spring, Keyes says. Average flight prices for winter will be cheaper than the summer, but still more than what you paid in 2021 due to high demand. He recommends booking now if you haven’t already. “The best time to have booked your winter holiday flights was in July. The second best time is today. The worst time is in November or December, when last-minute fares become extortionary.”

If you really want to save big, plan your travels in September and early October, or mid-January to February after the crowds have dispersed. According to Hopper, domestic airfare will be less than $300 through September, but it’ll rise again in October and November. In December, you will have to shell out over $390 for a last-minute booking. Even for fall, experts urge that you book now before prices hike up again.

According to Phil Dengler, the cutoff date to get a good deal on a Thanksgiving flight is Halloween. But you should aim for late August or early September. “After Halloween, prices will increase considerably as Thanksgiving gets closer. For Christmas flights, you should really book before Thanksgiving, but the best deals are between now and Halloween.”

Make decisions faster and aim to book this month to save some dollars. The more you delay, the slimmer the pickings for your preferred airlines and timings.