Air carriers and airports have planned and prepped in hopes...

Air carriers and airports have planned and prepped in hopes of avoiding the travel debacle of this summer.  Credit: TNS

If traveling this holiday season, be sure to pack your patience.

High prices, full flights and long lines have become a hallmark of post-pandemic air travel, which will be tested over Thanksgiving as a crush of humanity takes to the skies. Airlines see high demand for their services, but are constrained by the tight labor market that has slowed a full industry rebound.

Air carriers and airports, including Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, have planned and prepped in hopes of avoiding the travel debacle of this summer that resulted in thousands of travelers facing dramatic flight changes, cancellations and lost luggage worldwide.

But high passenger volumes can still strain the system — and consumers, however mentally prepared, may face unexpected setbacks.

"Even if you plan ahead, that doesn't help you in a TSA line," said Linda Snyder, vice president of travel and retail services for AAA Minneapolis.

And whether it's lodging, car rentals or airplane tickets, travel experts say book now. Capacity will be limited and prices will only rise.

Busy airport, but more food options

There is good news as more concessions are open at airports; rental cars can be found; hotels are taking bookings and airline executives say their businesses have improved operational reliability.

About 95% of airport concessions are expected to be open by Thanksgiving, though hours may vary.

Early pandemic furloughs turned into permanent layoffs for about 90 Aero employees in 2020. But Aero was able to hire most back earlier this year.

Airlines hope planning pays off

Executives of Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines say they are hiring pilots and other employees, but the training cycle takes time and may inhibit their ability to meet demand for the holidays.

"We are not going to be able to fly as much as we want to fly and I think the entire industry will be in that situation," said Greg Mays, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Sun Country.

Executives at Delta have pledged to be at full capacity by next summer.

But adding workers, especially pilots, can be a long process. Not only do new pilots need to be trained on their aircraft, but the airline's rapid turnover meant many of its existing pilots were promoted to captain or assigned a different type of airplane model, both of which require additional training.

Since mid-July, Delta operations have been running better than they were pre-pandemic, said Ed Bastian, the airline's chief executive, last month during the Airports Council International conference in Minneapolis. The airline extended summertime trans-Atlantic schedules into the fall for the first time as Americans take advantage of the strong U.S. dollar overseas.

Inflation: The menacing threat

Add to all this uncertainty the looming threat of inflation.

Of the 43% of U.S. adults that expect to travel this holiday season, about 8 in 10 are changing their plans because of inflation and rising prices, the survey found.

They are either shortening trips, trying less expensive activities, seeking cheaper destinations and accommodations, traveling shorter distances or taking fewer trips, the survey said.


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