More travel cutbacks are coming. Here's how to handle them
Travel companies are reducing schedules and sending visitors packing. Are you next?
You haven't seen the last of the travel cutbacks. Not even close.
This week, more airlines, airports and destinations reduced their capacity. United Airlines cut 12 percent of daily Newark flights to "boost performance." American Airlines dropped service to Toledo, Ohio; Ithaca, N.Y.; and Islip, N.Y., because of a pilot shortage.
At least two European airports, London's Gatwick and Amsterdam's Schiphol, announced new capacity restrictions. And on Italy's Sorrentine Peninsula, authorities this week said they are limiting access to popular beaches to avoid overcrowding.
And that's on top of the other travel cutbacks airlines made late this spring.
We had an animated discussion about this problem in our members-only forum on Friday. I asked if anyone planned to reduce their travel in response. But there's an even bigger question. More cutbacks are coming. How do you handle those?
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The trick is knowing where additional cuts could happen. Once you do, you can determine if your vacation is at risk. After that, it's a matter of planning — or replanning — your trip.
Where are the cutbacks happening?
If you're flying somewhere this summer, I have some bad news: This is only the beginning of airlines cutting their schedules.
They blame everyone but themselves. American, for example, says it had to eliminate service because of a pilot shortage. When Delta cut 100 daily flights, it suggested air traffic controllers were the problem.
On Friday, Airlines For America sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. In it, the airline lobbyists blamed air traffic controllers, saying a lack of adequate staffing led to "traffic restrictions under blue sky conditions."
What airlines aren't saying — but I will — is that this is almost entirely their fault. They took billions in government bailout money but dramatically reduced their payrolls. When travel demand snapped back, they were utterly unprepared. Airlines published unrealistic schedules, knowing they didn't have the staff to operate the flights.
That should be illegal.
There are ripple effects. We've seen capacity reductions at airports. They blindly followed the airlines in cutting staff during the pandemic, and now they're overwhelmed. But I've also heard that hotels are scrambling to meet record demand. My sources tell me that many London hotels got hit hard by the Great Resignation and are having a hard time keeping up. I'll be in London in a few weeks, and I'll report on this.
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Where are travel cutbacks likely to happen in the future?
On Wall Street, past performance may not be indicative of future results. But not in travel. You should expect more cutbacks in the airline industry. And there's no question that some hotels will struggle to keep up with unprecedented demand.
So, to be clear: If you're flying, plan on seeing cancellations this summer.
How do you find out if your flight is due for a cancellation?
It's complicated. Airlines use many factors to determine the viability of a route, including not just staff but profitability. But there are always clues before a route gets canned.
A new platform called AirLegit allows you to view historical flight data. You can find out if your flight is frequently delayed and by how much. (FlightAware, another helpful tool, doesn't show delays to nonpremium users.)
Looking at a flight's past performance will help you understand the odds of a delay. They may even give you clues to a possible cancellation. You can never know if you'll be stranded, but you can size up your risks.
In terms of airports, if you hear of excessively long lines or mountains of baggage piling up (like they were at London's Heathrow Airport last week), that could be another sign.
And who knows what destinations will do to curtail the number of tourists? The Europeans seem to have the shortest fuse when it comes to maxing out on visitors. I get the sense that American destinations would rather deal with the aftermath of being overrun by tourists than do anything to limit them now.
Hey, it's been a long pandemic. This is a make-up year.
What can you do about a travel cutback?
Travel cutbacks are going to happen — no question about it.
If you've already made plans, you will have to make your peace with it. If an airline decides to eliminate your flight, you'll either get a full refund or a flight of the airline's choosing. Even if you have to make three stops and overnight in Dallas. I'm not exaggerating. You might also need my guide on how to resolve any consumer problem.
If you haven't made your plans and want to cutback-proof them, here are a few ideas:
Avoid the problem airlines and airports
I've already told you where the cutbacks will likely happen this summer. The major carriers are reducing their schedules. In some instances, they're removing entire cities from their itinerary. But you can still get there. If American Airlines eliminated your flight to Ithaca, N.Y., don't worry. The airline runs flights out of nearby Syracuse. Maybe it isn't as convenient, but at least you'll get there.
Time your summer trip very carefully
I probably don't have to tell you that traveling on the upcoming July 4 weekend is madness. But just in case — it's madness! If you have to travel during the next two months, aim for the middle of the week. Or better yet, aim for after Labor Day, when things start normalizing. And don't forget, if your airline cancels a flight, it must offer a full refund within a week if you paid by credit card. If you paid by cash or check, it takes longer.
Choose a mode of travel that is uncuttable
I'm talking about driving your car or using a more reliable form of mass transit. In fact, Amtrak boosted its schedule after airlines began canceling theirs. So maybe this is the summer for a vacation by rail. The car rental situation is still problematic, so make sure you get a reservation early if you need a rental vehicle.
Is it time to cut back your vacation?
I know what you're thinking. With airlines, airports and destinations curbing travel, doesn't it make sense to cancel my vacation and stay home?
I wouldn't let the threat of a cancellation keep you home. It's been a long pandemic. It's time to get out there again.
About the art
Artist Aren Elliott imagined the summer’s airline cutbacks as a 1980s TV drama. And the hand of God with the enormous scissors. “Those cuts,” he explains, “were literal.”
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