Demand, Staff Shortages, Transit Strikes, Tech Woes Impact Summer Travel
Editor’s note: This article first published in the June 2023 Special Edition of Beyond the Meeting Room, ALHI’s printed magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication focused on sharing compelling, inspirational and educational stories from beyond the four walls of a meeting room.
Summer ushers in the busiest travel season of the year, and, if recent Memorial Day numbers provide an accurate barometer, this year could be one for the record books at airports across the country. The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.57 million travelers on the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, outpacing pre-pandemic traffic numbers from the same weekend in 2019.
While air travel has officially rebounded from the pandemic, this summer will provide a series of tests for the aviation industry, which will face the higher travel demand amid staffing shortages, transit strikes in Europe and with technology in need of updates.
FAA Reauthorization Act
The challenges affecting the airline industry were among the priorities of the U.S. Travel Association during a recent visit on Capitol Hill, said Associated Luxury Hotels International President and CEO Michael Dominguez. Most pressing is the FAA Reauthorization Act, as many of the airlines have reduced flights this summer into key markets because of a lack of staffing of air traffic controllers. Ahead of the busy travel season, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN the country is short by about 3,000 air traffic controller positions.
Dominguez notes that it’s important to remember how far we have come. The travel disruptions stemming from COVID-19 restrictions seem so far in the past, but in certain destinations, we are only now hitting a full year of restrictions being lifted.
“We have done an admirable job of bringing some normalcy to the two-and-a-half-year disruption to our travel ecosystem,” Dominguez said.
So, what will summer 2023 travel look like?
In short, airlines and airports are still feeling one of the hangover effects of the pandemic: being short-staffed, said Katy Nastro, a flight expert with Going.com, formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights.
An ongoing pilot shortage, combined with not enough air traffic control, causes concern, she said. However, travelers shouldn’t assume this will cause the kind of delays and cancellations that plagued air travel last summer.
Approach summer with cautious optimism, for two primary reasons, Nastro said.
First, airlines have adjusted their summer schedules —unlike last year—to a point where they can have the resources to operate.
Second, airlines are taking far more preventative measures this year to head off disruptions, including holding more pilots and planes as a buffer to prevent cascading disruptions, trimming the number of flights into and out of New York City (one of the most congested air corridors and most affected by air traffic controller shortages), and flying larger planes to accommodate high travel demand.
Dominguez’s advice for meeting and event planners is to “plan for the unexpected” as there will always be disruptions, delays and cancellations. Ask yourself: How can you prepare and ease the experience for those who have had interruptions in travel to your meeting? In some cases, this may be having refreshments and toiletries on hand in case luggage is lost or delayed.
More than 2.57 million passengers passed through TSA on Memorial Day this year, which outpaced pre-pandemic numbers.
Cool Airport Additions
As airlines and airports brace for the busy travel season, they’ve rolled out some upgrades to make travel days seamless. Here are three airport highlights to be on the lookout for this summer.
Ranked the third-busiest airport in the world, and a popular place for connections, Denver International Airport (DEN) has a new reservation system for its TSA security lines for general screening passengers (i.e., those without TSA PreCheck). DEN Reserve is only available at the Bridge Security TSA checkpoint, and passengers have 15 minutes of wiggle room to show up for their pre-booked appointments.
More Club Openings
Delta is opening and restoring eight of its Sky Clubs in 2023, following six locations in 2022.
The airline opened its first-ever location at Kansas City International Airport (MCI), and the 11,200-square-foot club has two all-weather Sky Decks, a premium bar and food buffet, curated art program and more.
In 2023, other new clubs and renovations in Delta hubs and key markets include those at the following airports:
- Minneapolis - Saint Paul International Airport (MSP-G)
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK-T4A)
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS-E)
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR-A)
- Miami International Airport (MIA)
- The newly reopened LaGuardia Airport (LGA) club near Gate 81
Delta’s Local Flavor program in select hubs gives travelers a taste of the region, spotlighting recipes from emerging local chefs.
A New People Mover
Set to open in 2024, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) Automated People Mover is a key addition to the Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX) multibillion dollar transformation. The electric train will zip between six stations, three inside the airport’s central terminal and three outside. The 2.25-mile guideway will run much like a monorail, and seven artists have been commissioned to create short-form video artworks for the electric train system.