Summer is almost here, and Americans across the country are preparing for a busy travel period as they jet off to their favorite sunny destinations. However, as airlines ramp up their schedules, the troublesome 2022 travel season still haunts them.
Last year's summer was plagued by skyrocketing airfares, numerous cancellations, and an aviation industry that couldn't keep up with demand. A poll published that July found 79 percent of travelers experienced some type of problem during their trip, and it seems people aren't confident they'll have a better go-around in 2023. J.D. Power's newly released North America Airline Satisfaction Study notes that "customer satisfaction with major airlines is down significantly for a second consecutive year." The study concludes that overall satisfaction is at 791 on a 1,000-point scale, down seven points from a year ago. This is driven largely by rising ticket prices, the study says, and "the biggest factor driving this year's decline ... is cost and fees, which has fallen 17 points from 2022."
Yields are actually up economically for airlines in 2023, but "this golden age of enhanced revenues is coming at the expense of customer satisfaction," J.D. Power reports. This means that customers think "planes are crowded, tickets are expensive and flight availability is constrained," adds Michael Taylor, J.D. Power's travel intelligence lead. While not everything in the survey was negative — ratings for in-air food and beverages actually increased — it's clear that customers are on edge when it comes to purchasing their next plane ticket. Are they in for problems this summer?
What are commentators saying?
Demand this summer "will be as strong as we've seen since before the pandemic, and potentially the strongest ever," Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, tells Forbes. He adds that this type of demand in an industry "that is woefully underfunded and understaffed is likely to create substantial frustrations among travelers."
While many of the problems in 2022 were a result of the immediate post-lockdown travel surge, which Forbes describes as "air-mageddon," there were also long-term issues that could still arise this summer. Aviation infrastructure and technology "have been chronically underfunded for years," Freeman notes, adding, "These problems have been driven by a slate of missed opportunities over the years from Congress and within the federal government."
The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is also expecting "to see very, very strong demand all the way through the summertime, and that's what we're preparing for," TSA administrator David Pekoske tells Bloomberg. With the aforementioned staffing shortages seen across the industry, this summer "will also be a test for pilots, air traffic controllers, and other stakeholders after a string of alarming incidents in recent months," Axios reports.
Then there is the implementation of new sensors to help stop 5G interference. There are concerns this could cause additional delays. There is a cutoff date of July 1 for airlines to refit their planes. However, "supply chain issues make it unlikely that all aircraft can be upgraded by the ... deadline, threatening operational disruptions during the peak northern summer travel season," the International Air Transport Association (IATA) trade group says, per BBC News.
The Biden administration is taking steps to try and mitigate problems. One proposal would force airlines to compensate passengers for "controllable airline cancellations" by paying for the cost of their ticket, as well as associated expenses such as food and hotel rooms. Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the proposal would also create a website to track airlines that "offer cash compensation, provide travel credits or vouchers, or award frequent flyer miles and cover the costs for other amenities."
Many airlines are "adding flights and operating larger aircraft to handle the number of passengers expected to fly," The Washington Post reports. Airlines have been on a hiring spree and "most are fully staffed," the newspaper adds.
Some trade groups insist airlines aren't entirely to blame. Many "already have financial incentives to get their passengers to their destination as planned," IATA says in a press release, adding that the administration's proposal "will not create a new incentive, but it will have to be recouped — which is likely to have an impact on ticket prices."