It’s Sold Out Summer.
Planes will be full.
Fares will be expensive.
Hotels will be packed.
Let’s all just hope for good weather at DFW, ORD, CLT, and ATL.
Travel will be INSANE this summer
American recently said that demand is basically back at 2019 levels, no doubt buoyed by the cessation of mask mandates in cities and airlines across the world. It’s great for a travel industry that was pummeled by the pandemic. But man is it going to be stressful this summer.
Let’s go back to my They Will Fly Again project, published just over two years ago.
Just about every one of these Delta jets at Kansas City are back in the skies. Look up at the top of the image though. You see a couple of Rouge jets, a subsidiary of Air Canada. Those jets are not flying again.
Airlines retired older aircraft when demand plummeted, ensuring that any flights that were actually going out were going to be on newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft. When those jets were retired, many pilots took advantage of lucrative buyout offers from the airlines to retire early (by accepting federal bailout funds from the US government, airlines agreed to not do mass layoffs but were permitted to offer buyouts to reduce headcount). Some cabin crews were offered the same buyout opportunities, as were the litany of airline workers at various HQs and offices around the world.
It wasn’t just airlines. Hotels changed ownership or closed their doors completely. Restaurants closed their doors. The economic tail of the pandemic will last for decades.
Heck, the first two times I attempted to visit Godafoss in Iceland I couldn’t because all three parking lots were completely full. In March 2021 I had the entire waterfall to myself for hours.
So if we look at the demand for travel and the capacity to accept travelers as overlapping circles, demand for travel in 2020 dropped as capacity for travelers did the same.
What we’re about to find out is that demand is back in a MASSIVE way and capacity still isn’t quite there. My friend Valerie from Trusted Travel Girl called it Sold Out Summer, and what a perfect description.
This summer will be nuts, so here are three tips to help you thrive.
My Top Three Travel Tips This Summer
1. Book flights for early in the day
Airlines put an extreme focus on the first flights of the day, for a simple reason: if a flight from, say, DFW doesn’t take off for Nashville because of maintenance, it could cause knock-on effects that take literally days to unwind. American has planes all over the country/world at any point in time, sure, but there are also places those planes are expected to arrive. It’s not just the planes either. Flight crews are closely monitored to ensure compliance with FAA flight regulations and cabin crews are needed when a flight is ready to board. I went to an all-night behind-the-scenes event with American Airlines a few years back where they showed us the focus they put on these first flights of the day, working around the clock to make sure they got out on time.
Airlines can plan around this with reserve aircraft and reserve crews, but remember how airlines retired a bunch of aircraft? And crews took buyouts? Exactly.
Booking a flight for the first thing in the morning, even if it means spending another night at a hotel, gives you the best odds of getting where you need to be on time and preventing your evening flight from being affected by something that took place half a country away hours before you were supposed to board.
2. Know how to get customer service via Twitter
Twitter is in the news for lots of reasons right now but it really hit its peak as a company when I wrote about the American Airlines Twitter team a few years ago (here).
Look, you don’t need to know how to tweet. You don’t need to follow Elon Musk or your favorite politician. You simply need to have an account and understand how to send Direct Messages. Just about every airline and hotel chain in the world offers support via Twitter and it all happens via Direct Messages. The Twitter teams at many of these companies are just as skilled and trained as their phone reservation agents.
Think back to the last time you called an airline when your flight was canceled, you probably heard something like “We’re experiencing significant call volume at the moment, we look forward to answering your call in approximately [recording of people audibly laughing] minutes”.
I was in Albuquerque (which also happens to be my favorite Weird Al Yankovic song) last year with a friend and our American flight looked like it was going to be canceled. She called the Executive Platinum line for American Airlines and I Direct Messaged them on Twitter.
The Twitter team beat the reservation agent team by hours.
Go sign up for an account and download the Twitter app. It will save you time when things go wrong.
3. If you can, try to avoid traveling around the end of the month
The FAA regulates the amount of time that flight crews and cabin crews can work in a given day and in a given month. Any time anything goes wrong, reserve crews can be called in to save the day, like I mentioned in Tip 1. Here’s the thing though. Airlines can literally run out of reserve crews with time left in a given month. It happened late last year, with airlines canceling thousands of flights as a result.
Flying anytime but the last few days of the month could prevent this unlikely, but not unheard of, scenario from affecting you. Another outbreak of COVID, which will probably happen this summer, could take even more crews out of commission, stressing the reserve capacity of airlines.
The tips that didn’t quite make it
There are plenty more general tips I could give, like “gardening” your reservations, using sites like ExpertFlyer (with a paid subscription) to find flight availability for agents when facing flight delays/cancellations, and booking nonstop flights instead of connecting flights through airports like DFW, ORD, and ATL, which are frequently hit by weather events during the summer storm season.
And here’s the most important thing to bring with you this summer
Grace. If you’re traveling this summer, you’re going to meet security agents who have never been busier, gate agents boarding full planes, and cabin crews who have had a rough go of it for the past two years.
Have some grace. Get to the airport a bit earlier to give yourself more time to sift through the nonsense. When things go wrong, and they will go wrong, be kind and gracious to those assisting you because there’s a good chance the customer after you won’t be.
Call it Sold Out Summer or Revenge Travel, whatever you want. You will be paying more for your travel experience this summer and it’s normal for your expectations to rise as a result. When travel vendors miss the mark, and they will, just try not to take it out on the frontline workers who didn’t cause whatever you’re experiencing.
Be the kind of traveler you want to sit next to on a plane and in the security line.
And thus endeth the rant.