News You Already Know: Flying is a Miserable Experience Right Now

Operations

We are just about a month into the summer, and so it’s time to do a little temperature check. How are things going? The answer is… not well. Yes, there are delays and cancellations during any summer, and there’s plenty of labor vs management mudslinging as well. But the numbers themselves show that things are much worse than even a normally-frustrating summer.

I went into masFlight/Anuvu data to look at performance for the biggest US airlines from June 1 – June 27. This includes the Big 4 (American, Delta, Southwest, United), the ULCCs (Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit), and two Tweeners (Alaska and JetBlue) plus their regional operations. So, how do things look?

June 1-27, 2022 Completion Factor by Marketing Airline

Data via masFlight/Anuvu

It looks like all those schedule cuts at Alaska this spring have done wonders for the airline. It and Frontier are the only two operating more than 99 percent of their flights. Wait… Frontier? Good for them.

The problems really arise when you get down to the big guys. None of those bottom five are performing well, though United is the best of the worst, so congrats to them. American — the worst of the worst — did even worse with mainline than it did with regionals, I should note. But Delta, oooh boy, Delta has fallen faster than anyone. This is very bad.

I’ve tried to think of the best way put this into context, so let me put it this way. Across these 9 airlines, 3.1% of flights have been canceled from June 1 – 27. If we look at June 2019, the rate was 2.02%. That doesn’t sound like a lot, so let’s make it more tangible.

These nine airlines canceled 18,508 flights in the first 27 days of June. If they had “only” canceled 2.02% of flights as they did in June 2019, then 13,120 flights would have been canceled. In other words, the airlines have canceled more than 40 percent more flights this June simply because they couldn’t run an operation as well as they did in June 2019. And “well” was already a misnomer back then.

Not good enough? Ok. Assume each canceled flight averaged 100 people on board, probably a conservative number. That means that for the first three weeks of June, more than half a million more people were on canceled flights this year than if they had performed at 2019 levels.

Yes, it all sounds bad, but not everyone is failing in this regard. Spirit and Alaska saw minor improvements in their completion factor while Southwest climbed from 98.0 to 98.8 percent. But the big winner… again it’s Frontier with a jump from 97.5 to 99.0 percent. Good on them.

But here is where the animal-tail party ends. Flight cancellations are just one component. A poor on-time record is also problematic since it can often result in missed connections and more problems down the line. So how did that go?

June 1-26, 2022 Arrivals Within 14 Minutes of Schedule by Marketing Airline

Data via masFlight/Anuvu

Funny how that works, isn’t it? Frontier and Southwest may not have canceled much, but they sure have delayed a lot, nearly a third of their flights. That is often the tradeoff in these types of situations.

Spirit and Alaska, however… you both deserve a standing ovation for being the most reliable operators this June. It’s a low bar, to be sure, but compared to the rest these numbers are good.

The question is… what the hell is going on to make this such a miserable experience for so many people? And the answer is… it’s all going bad.

I don’t need to rehash everything on the airline side, because it’s been beaten to death already. Just suffice it to say that the airlines depleted their employee ranks and are struggling to refill them. At the same time, they retired fleets that led to big pilot shuffling and many training events. This has led to repeated schedule changes that, in many cases, still have not been enough. It’s hard to keep up.

At the same time, there is a crushingly high demand for travel this summer, so the airlines are pushing themselves as hard as they can to fly as much as possible even with depleted ranks. There is not as much margin as they’d like, so things can get ugly.

But it’s not just the airlines having problems. We’ve had clients take delays due to catering not being done, or ground crews not being available to bring an airplane in, or fueling delays… you name it. And let’s not forget the FAA which mind-bogglingly took the airlines to task last week on the very same day it put out flow control due to having its own staffing issues in Jacksonville Center.

It’s really just one thing after another, some related, some not. We have things like chronic understaffing in Europe at security checkpoints, which has forced airlines to make big changes. And then we have things as stupid as closing the air traffic control tower in Austin last week to do a deep clean due to COVID. (Apparently the news that COVID does not transmit easily on surfaces has not reached the FAA.)

You take this and add to it the high levels of demand and you have a lot of people stuck with few options available to them. So what do they do? They call the airlines and get absolutely nowhere due to understaffed and overtaxed call centers.

This is something we’ve seen repeated over and over again at Cranky Concierge. Last week, I called our Delta sales support desk — which is some special desk that is supposed to have shorter wait times — and I did the callback feature. Eventually I figured out a solution to my problem and forgot about it. I had completely forgotten by the time I got a call back a few hours later. At other times, the sales support line just say they’re too busy and we should call back later. Another client called American and didn’t get a callback until the following day. I spent Friday afternoon on perma-hold with Lufthansa’s so-called “Key Accounts” desk before getting an answer after 3 hours. I shudder to think what the regular line wait was.

This is being repeated over and over again, and travelers are getting more and more frustrated, as they should be. It takes a lot to push me to the edge, but seeing just how miserable everything has been this month has taken its toll… and I’m not the one flying.

I’d love to say I have a list of easy solutions, but I don’t. The only real near term solution is to cut back flights, but that’s bad too. United is doing that with a 50 daily flight cut in Newark since the airport is approaching gridlock with more than 10 percent of flights canceled this month so far. But that leaves thousands of travelers every day who need to now be rebooked. Meanwhile, Delta keeps pushing ahead with its schedule as is, but it is canceling like crazy, more than 7% of mainline departures yesterday alone.

The airlines, their contractors, and the feds did not do enough to ensure this summer would run well, and now the traveling public is forced to live with that in the near term. They should all be apologizing for getting us into this mess.

59 comments on “News You Already Know: Flying is a Miserable Experience Right Now

  1. It is miserable, and ridiculously expensive (and has been long before gas prices went up). And yet all of the fights that I have taken in recent months (8) have shown no more than 50% capacity up until the day of departure – then something magically happens in the 2hrs before take-off and the planes are rammed full.

    1. Bobber,

      Q. Not that I don’t believe you, but I must ask – how is it possible that flights show 50% full only two hours before departure & than are suddenly full at departure?

      1. Hi Sean, on the basis of the seat map; granted, I’m no airline booking specialist, so maybe there’s a tranche of seats they don’t assign, but I’ve assumed that it’s a reflection of last-minute cancellations and re-bookings.

        1. Ditto here, exact same scenario over the past 45 days. United RTs ORD-SFO, ORD-DTW, ORD-PWM, ORD-TPA, ORD-MSP, and even ORD-CID. Also UA one-way segments RDD-LAX, SEA-ORD, ORD-ANC and SFO-SMF. Plus a one-way on AK ANC-SEA. All of theses flights were no more than 60% full up to 1-2 hours before departure. Certainly not everyone decides at the last minute to take a trip from Chicago to Cedar Rapids (no offense meant to you Eastern Iowans).

          What gives?

          1. The seat map is in no way indicative of how full the flight is. There are dozens of passengers who don’t/can’t select seats. Certain blocks of seats are held back for airport control and can’t be selected.

      2. Basic Economy tickets are not assigned until 2 hours before the flight. Seat Maps are not a good indication of load

          1. Few people are willing to pay extra for E-Plus, but plain economy seats will all get selected, so they get assigned an E-Plus seat at check-in. Silver elites can also grab E-Plus at check-in, and a lot of people don’t check-in until close to flight time.

      3. Hi Sean! Are you looking at the seat maps online? If so, please expect them to be wildly inaccurate. They will not display seats for basic economy passengers who will not be assigned seats until check in. So that’s one way the flight can appear to be full at the very last minute.

  2. News you can use: if you’re braving the skies this summer, book flights that depart earlier in the day. Afternoon flights are twice as likely as morning flights to be delayed, evening flights 2.5x as likely. Makes sense intuitively and the data backs it up.

    (Not sure our advice about flying through DL hubs holds given their troubles. But definitely avoid connecting in Newark.)

    BTS data from summer 2022 because I don’t have the expensive privately-held data. Click through for the hourly breakdown. Full disclosure: I wrote this.

    https://www.amtrav.com/blog/finding-the-most-reliable-flights-this-summer

  3. Brett,

    Not sure if I am the only one with this problem, but the first image labeled “June 1-27, 2022 Completion Factor by Marketing Airline” doesn’t render on my iPad (tried Safari and Chrome, thought Chrome is really just a skin on top the same rendering engine thanks to Apple restrictions). I just see a ton of empty white space. I will note that I have seen similar problems with previous posts on your site.

    1. I’ve been seeing it for the past few weeks on various articles on this site on iPad and iPhone too. I’d figured it was my ad blocker (AdGuard), but I just tried disabling the content blocker and it still doesn’t show up. I also thought maybe it was something about the host being used for the images, but the other images on the article show up fine.

      1. CF – I’ve seen this for a while as well. I can replicated it on my desktop by just making the window skinnier. Essentially if there aren’t enough pixels wide to display the image, it just gets hidden.

        1. Actually, I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. If you dramatically resize the horizontal width of the window, then the image will appear and resize. This happens on Safari on MacOS.

          However on iPads and iPhones you can’t resize the horizontal width of the window, so the image won’t appear.

          This doesn’t seem to be an issue on Firefox and Chrome on MacOS. (And as Oliver mentioned, all web browsers on iOS/iPadOS are all just skins of WebKit/Safari.)

      2. Website in browser. Based on what Nick said, I turned my device 90 degrees to get a wider “window”. And I got the image to render once by then reloading the page. But all attempts to reproduce this reliably failed. I will play with it some more, and maybe try other older posts.

  4. At the risk of being a bit of a contrarian, this problem has been building for years. Airlines have become much leaner with their personnel and, to go back to a business school concept, substituted capital for labor.

    If everything works as planned, the system works! But when DFW, ORD, ATL or any of several other hubs goes down, the airline industry has been a nightmare for years. Nowadays, there are even fewer people and technology can’t address the human factors of a daughter flying from Denver to Rochester for her Mother’s funeral. Or a honeymoon couple racing to get a once-in-a-lifetime cruise. At United, it was even worse when they started removing staff from rebook centers and the United Clubs (though in Chicago, the rebook staff at the UC is back).

    The airlines also are designed to cater to “frequent” fliers, or regular customers. While United has means to move a 1K or GS to a destination fair quickly, it’s another issue entirely when Liz from Laredo or Jane from Jackson is on their way to spend a few days in Duluth with family and girlhood friends. The airlines may care about these women, but they sure don’t show it!

    Bottom line is the bottom line. I’d suggest that once upon a time the names United, American and Delta stood for something. That something was a better quality product. You paid a little more but the crap that’s happening now didn’t happen then. In recent times, it’s been such a race to the bottom fare wise that there’s little difference in a coach seat between United or Delta and an ULCC.

  5. An observation from having been caught up in this mess with American last week. A good way to describe the problem is that there’s no slack in the system.

    In the past, a canceled direct flight (at least on one of the big 3) meant you get surprise connection or weird rerouting, but you still get there albeit a few hours later and with a souvenir from a city you didn’t plan to visit. This summer, my experience has been that there simply aren’t other options. All flights are already at 105% capacity so a cancellation means having to potentially wait days until a flight with available seats on it is going *anywhere* whether it be your destination or hub(s) in-between.

    Something the airlines could do as an emergency measure would to bring back some interline rebooking agreements or even get creative with some rental car / train vouchers. They simply don’t have capacity to get all their customers to their destinations without outside help right now.

  6. What’s the best service for notifications for cancelled/changed flights? Not just the day of travel but also for trips booked in the future. I’ve learned the hard way to get myself rebooked asap, but I just keep checking all my reservations.

  7. For me personally, flying has never been a fun or pleasant experience. It’s always been a bit of a hassle. I want to get from one place to another.

    1. Agreed. I still find the overall concept of traveling exciting, along with all the steps and work involved in moving pax, bags, and cargo, and keeping the planes maintained etc, but the overall experience has been a hassle and a means to an end. Then again, I’m almost always sitting in the back of the plane, not at the front.

      1. I had that realization some times ago. I like watching/spotting planes; I like the concept of traveling. Actually flying isn’t so much fun. Like you, I’m nearly always behind the wing.

  8. The first graph highlights that the legacy airlines are struggling to get the right pilots in the right seats more than low cost carriers which have fewer fleet types. The LCCs and ULCCs cut their schedules and immediately saw improved reliability.

    The converse is that legacy carriers are aggressively training pilots but won’t see the benefit until the following month. If a pilot was awarded an aircraft as a lineholder, the airline cannot generally start using them in the middle of the month if they missed the bid. The FAA is also training new controllers.
    Also, the legacy carriers have taken more of a hit because they quickly pulled international widebody aircraft off of their domestic networks and put them back on international routes which has added more demand for narrowbody pilots.

    ATC does hold a significant chunk of responsibility for delays. Not only is the JAX center issuing far more delays than they have in the past but the length of delays at specific airports is far greater than it was pre-covid even though the number of flights is less. Nobody doubts that FAA personnel have made some of the same choices regarding their careers that airline people have – including leaving the workforce forcing the FAA to hire new people – but no one should grandstand about how all of the problems are one group (the airlines) when it is clear that every part of the travel system is understaffed and/or has significant number of undertrained people.

    Timing of when a flight is cancelled has a big influence on the level of passenger inconvenience. Airlines that are cancelling for staffing or known capacity issues such as EWR are cancelling a day or more in advance when means very few people arrive at the airport to find their flight cancelled. ATC delays, OTOH, often happen after a passenger is enroute – and thus more likely to cause greater inconvenience.

    The DOT just released its latest DOT air travel consumer report and Delta had the best on-time and lowest cancellation rate for April, the latest month of DOT data. The last two months have been much more challenging but the longer term trends will not likely change just as is shaping up for profitability.

    And, CF, given that the SAVE stockholder vote is Thursday, I do hope you plan for a “live” article about the results of the merger decision – which should be known by the end of the day. If there is a decision, it will be the talk of the industry on Friday.

    1. Tim, the problem with blaming this on just being a training problem that the LCCs don’t have, is the difference between a schedule change and a cancellation is 7 days. (A flight cancelled 8 days before it departs is a schedule change, a flight cancelled 6 days before it departs is a cancellation.)

      If an airline can’t predict that they’ll have staffing issues of this magnitude ten days or so in advance, they should just close up shop and be done with it.

      On other spots I’ve seen people aggressively complaining about Alaska’s schedule changes, but I’d argue that cancelling a flight with as much advance notice as possible (2 to 20 weeks) is the better thing to do, as it gives people time to plan, or just decide not to take the trip in question..

      1. Nick,
        first, while 7 days is technically the cutoff between what is concerned a schedule change and a cancellation, I’m not sure that really reflects how people who have booked weeks or months in advance feel when their plans are changed. I don’t know the answer but I wouldn’t cling too tightly to any hard and fast definition as if one makes a flight change acceptable and another not.
        As to your reply below and the discussion about government cheese, the simple fact is that Congress did not specify exactly how government money was to be used; implied purposes don’t count and can’t be enforced.
        You, like me, probably received multiple rounds of federal checks (or direct deposits) that I didn’t need and for which the use wasn’t specified so it isn’t just me.
        And, without getting political, we are now as a country dealing with the effects of all that money being pumped into the economy long after millions of people just walked away from the workforce – because the government made it financially feasible for them.
        Airlines got way more money than they should but that is true about all of the covid relief – which, by the way, spanned two presidents.

        and one of the simplest explanations for why airlines got what they did was the election in November of 2020. While airline employees might feel marginalized, they are still a powerful and well-compensated (relative to the general workforce) voting block that both parties want to do all they can to attract.

  9. As someone who works in an operational role at one of the Big 4, we are doing the best we can with the resources we have. Mandatory overtime almost every day and new hires who need to be trained and are having to get thrown into the mess before they’re really able to handle it just adds to the pressure. We are tired and over it too :(

  10. Pilot checking in here. If you want more people to become pilots pay them more and give them better QOL. Its not rocket science guys.

  11. Remind me: why exactly did my tax dollars go to the COVID bailout of the airline industry? I feel as if the Federal government could have saved a ton of money – the airline bailout appears to have been irrelevant and had no impact whatsoever on ensuring the air travel system’s recovery, reliability and efficacy. If all of these other (predictable and foreseen) factors (e.g., supply chain, labor shortage, etc.) are sinking the airlines in any event, then we should not have granted them a bailout in the first place. Either they are a private sector actor (“Sign up for the payroll protection plan, buddy!”) or they are a critical industry to the national economy (and security) and should be a stringently and strictly regulated public utility. Right now, these jokers have the best of both worlds along with very highly paid CEOs. Sheesh.

    I hope that when the next time happens (and it will) our elected representatives have the wherewithal to tell the Wings Club to “go pound sand” the next time they head up the Hill hat-in-hand.

    Ridiculous.

    1. There were plenty of people that argued that the amount of stimulus that was given to airlines was not necessary – esp. beyond the first tranche that opened up credit markets.
      The downside of keeping all of the airlines alive during covid – which would not have happened without lots of stimulus – is that capacity has to leave the US airline system esp. if fuel prices remain elevated. There is alot of “revenge travel” that will not be sustained post Labor Day and perhaps longer on international networks – where demand has reopened later than in the US.
      Add in a recession, and the notion that airlines needed to prepare for the level of demand that exists this summer is probably unrealistic. They clearly have dropped the ball this summer but the level of demand will drop off even as staffing levels for airlines, airports and the FAA improves later this year.
      The bigger theme that is going to be ongoing is that the legacy/global airlines plus Southwest and Alaska are in very good shape financially – the latter two because of very effective fuel hedges – while the ultra low cost carrier segment and JBLU are struggling and will continue to struggle. There has never been a period since deregulation that the biggest, most established airlines are hands down in better shape than deep discounters.

    2. TBH, it was a failure to leave the CARES act as loose as they did.

      If they had been required to keep pilots, FAs, and whomever else current on their certifications, that would’ve been helpful, but instead they were allowed to offer buyouts, etc which caused a fair bit of pain.

      I’m not completely against the CARES act type support, but they should’ve been required to maintain both higher levels of minimum service as well as be able to pull the whole system back much faster and completely than they did

      1. I 100 percent agree. The CARES Act was, first and foremost, a *jobs program* that saved lots of American jobs. Like everything that airlines touch, they turned it into a capital project – a way to take money meant for employees and then ask employees to *literally* volunteer to give up their government-supported checks and use it to enrich the airlines, instead. (Not to mention the thousands of employees who were, in fact, laid off once funding ended.) Other airlines, internationally, that did NOT receive CARES Act equivalent bailouts are also struggling, so you have to ask yourself: what was the point of the CARES Act in the US?

        I find it utterly shocking (but, I guess, not surprising) that nobody is outraged about this! It was billions and billions of taxpayer dollars meant *precisely* and *specifically* to avoid *the exact, very situation we are currently in* and the airlines totally failed at it! Totally and completely! Why is nobody angry about this?!

        Airlines *right this very minute* are coasting on *huge* amounts of revenue; they keep ticking their financial guidance *upward!* How can we, as a country, continue to allow this obviously unacceptable divergence between profiteering and operational failure? Why is the so-called “free market” rewarding airlines for failing so badly?!

        1. Mary – exactly. I agree and am indeed angry about it. The whole point of the “bailout” was to ensure this wouldn’t happen.

          After having been burned the last time the “private sector” airlines asked for help, Congress insisted on no stock buybacks. Are we to expect that they will insist on no early retirements/layoffs the next time? Or should we just tell them they get no special treatment the next time?

          I vote for the latter.

        2. American Airlines had revenue of $12 billion in the second quarter of 2019.

          In 2020, that revenue was $1.6 billion.

          By 2021 it was back to $7.5 billion, but still only about 60% of pre-pandemic levels. What were they supposed to do, exactly? Keep all those people on the payroll for years, losing money?

          We didn’t pay them nearly enough to do that. They had no choice but to shed people and planes. Otherwise they would have gone under.

  12. It’s not just a US problem – airlines around the world are facing incessant demand after cutting staff during the pandemic. Over in Australia Qantas is in the bad books for losing luggage on a shocking scale or for leaving pax stranded at DFW after their flight got cancelled.

    That said, AA cancelled my fight from Trinidad to Miami a few weeks back and booked me on a JetBlue flight the following day. To JFK. Good thing I wasn’t wedded to Florida.

  13. A whole lot of businesses have the same issues right now. I’m trying to hire people in my own business and it’s really difficult.

    Everyone complaining here? There are two solutions…have the airlines cut flights and makes fares go through the roof, or do what they are doing, and just try to get through the summer.

    If you didn’t like the CARES Act, imagine how bad it would be if they let American or Delta go bankrupt. You don’t just turn on a massive airline operation.

    And as a business owner who dealt with juggling things trying to stay afloat during COVID, it’s not nearly as simple as you think. The money wasn’t enough to pay people for months and months on end, so you had to make some strategic decisions.

    This just goes back to telling you how short sighted all the shutdowns really were, and how much damage they did.

    1. “I’m trying to hire people in my own business and it’s really difficult.”

      I’m curious to know where all the workers went. I understand that there may have been a shift in certain industries (such as airlines that significantly reduced staff and now are trying to hire back). But it seems like every industry is struggling to find workers and I can’t figure out where all of them went.

      Is the government still handing out money above and beyond pre-covid levels that are keeping people home?

      1. People still have lots of household savings that they are burning through. Once all that cash is spent, and prices remain high, we’re going to hit peak recession. Just wait until this winter when people need to pay for home heating costs.

        1. I hear what you are saying, and I’m sure that’s part of it, but workers in industries such as the services industries were never flush with cash.

          They always say a large percentage of American’s live paycheck to paycheck, so that’s why it just doesn’t compute in my mind.

          The height of the pandemic was 2020. We are 18 months from that. I would think by now that any savings people accumulated dried up long ago and should have returned to work by now.

      2. No, the government is not still handing out money above and beyond pre-covid levels. The additional $300 a week for unemployment ended at the beginning of September. (The $600 a week ended earlier than that.)

        There hasn’t been a stimulus check since the beginning of 2021. (Although some people may not have gotten their funds in 2021, and instead got them in 2022 as part of their 2021 tax refund, since the stimulus checks were technically an advanced tax credit against either your 2021 or 2022 taxes.)

        The last PPP loans (which were for employers and independent contractors) were handed out by May 31, 2021.

      3. “I’m curious to know where all the workers went.”

        Many people in the retail, service. and hospitality sectors went to places like Amazon fulfillment centers. They’re never going back.

        Parents of young kids figured out that they could get by on one income instead of paying for day care as well. They’re not coming back for a few years at least.

        Countless others realized they were in “bullsh*t jobs” that weren’t worth the effort/commute/what have you. The companies that make it worth a worker’s time to show up aren’t having hiring issues right now. Companies still clinging to the idea that people should see working there as some sort of privilege will struggle.

    2. John – I understand your viewpoint – honestly, I do. But why do the airlines merit special treatment?

      If they are critical national infrastructure, then I feel they need to be strictly and stringently regulated public utility – much more so than they already are. Maybe not a return to CAB-era regulation, but close to it: when irregular operations happen, they must put you on any airline heading to your destination immediately. They must pay for meals and hotels. They can’t keep you on the tarmac waiting for a ground hold forever (I know, I know – some of this exists already, but really we need much more of it…)

      If they are a private business that reaps the risks and rewards of a “free market”, then they should get no special treatment beyond what any other sector of the private economy gets when there is an emergency. Period.

      Right now, they love pleading “critical infrastructure” when they need BILLIONS in a bailout, and that “we are a private sector company” when they want to charge you for a window seat and then force you to lower the shade (or they do it remotely now on some airliners – horrible).

      Pathetic.

      1. Whisperjet, everything you are asking for costs money. You want them to put you up and pay for meals and a hotel when there are storms in Atlanta or DFW? How much more are you willing to pay for that?

        I would suggest offering weather/delay insurance. Maybe $50 per trip. You get delayed by stuff within the airline’s control (maintenance etc) then it’s on the airline. If not, it goes to the insurance. And if you didn’t buy the insurance, it’s on you.

        The reason they want to charge you for a window seat is that is worth more than the middle seat. You wouldn’t expect to pay the same price for chuck shoulder roast as you would for a nice strip or T-bone, would you? Same principle.

        Lastly, demanding that people be put on the next flight on the other guys doesn’t work. Example 1…you are flying from Fargo to Miami on American, via ORD. Storms hammer ORD, and your Miami flight is canceled. You ask for another flight, but the other guys’ flights are also jacked up. Their flights were already full. Where are the extra seats?

        Example 2: you are flying from Savannah to Salt Lake City via Atlanta on Delta. Your flight from ATL-SLC is canceled. No one else flies ATL-SLC so you are screwed. Plus due to storms, all the flights from Atlanta to other hubs where you could connect are full also.

        Bottom line: the demand for air travel is near what the capacity of the system is. How do you fix that?

        1. John – again, I understand your points and agree with many of them! I think you misunderstood what I take issue with.

          My issue is with the “special treatment” that commercial aviation seems to get. If you take BILLIONS in a bailout program no one else was afforded, then you are implying that you are critical to the economy. If that’s the case, then I feel “special treatment” warrants “special requirements” that the airlines should be ready to meet, including more stringent regulations and consumer protections.

          And of course I understand your examples – in the pre-deregulation days, those types of accommodations were done within specific reasonable parameters which could again be utilized. Do I expect the world for a 2 hour weather delay in DFW? No. But if they are stretched so tight that a “blue sky” cancellation means I get delayed by several days in terms of reaching my destination, then yes – I expect to have hotels and meals paid for. If that means airfares go up so that people can be accommodated when the fecal matter hits the ventilator, so be it. But right now people are truly hurting and missing events they have planned for not by a few hours, but by entire days. That is simply unacceptable, and I expect most people would be willing to pay more in fares (and/or some type of included “insurance” – just build it in to the fare for Pete’s sake – the way these airlines nickel-and-dime you it’s like I am being charged a resort fee at a hotel to use a towel…) for an appreciably more reliable air travel system.

          All of the examples you give make total sense to me and I agree with them. I too believe in a free (and fair) market, and different price points for different services. But if you take BILLIONS in a bailout, then the rules change, I feel. And many others do too.

          If all this was happening after the airlines had not taken a special bailout, I would agree even more with you and say “thems the breaks”. I understand why many of my neighborhood businesses and others have had troubles recently with staffing, et cetera – but they did not take a federal bailout beyond anything every other industry was offered. So I understand and work with them.

          As to your bottom line: “demand” is near the capacity of the system because the airlines implied they could execute a contract of carriage that they clearly cannot. Perhaps a fix would be to stop selling tickets for flights you know full well can’t be operated, take a step back, and reassess. Just a thought.

          Finally – I understand a window seat is better – that’s why I pay extra! – but then PLEASE don’t tell me to lower my shade so someone who paid less can watch their iPhone movie more easily!

          1. The question I keep coming back to, is how much are you willing to pay for this?

            Do you want the airlines to cut a bunch of flights so there is extra capacity? If you do, fares are going to skyrocket because the demand is there.

            The only short term fix is to reduce demand – which means jacking up fares so that fewer people want to fly somewhere.

            What else would you have them do? If you have 1,000 people wanting to fly somewhere, and 900 seats available, you are simply not going to be able to take them all.

            The sad reality is that even with billions of dollars, you can’t simply wipe out demand and keep everything as it was, then just start it back up again.

            PS most businesses did take PPP money. It was there – they would have been nuts not to.

            1. John – agreed. Payroll Protection Plan money, sure. Over $50,000,000,000.00 (or so) in a special bailout = a different story.

              And I honestly have no issue personally with fares going up to provide a better managed, more reliable system. (Given the reality of climate change, we all should probably be flying less anyway, honestly. I myself am guilty of flying more than is probably healthy for the environment.)

              Reducing demand may be a good way to manage this – didn’t several European nations require their airlines to no longer operate services that trains could do in less than 3 hours (or something similar) as a condition of their “bailout”? Seems like that would have been a nice compromise and a good place to start. (Yes, yes – I know we have light years to catch up to their level of infrastructure investment in relatively more sustainable modes and connectivity – but we need to start somewhere!)

              And I don’t disagree that “The sad reality is that even with billions of dollars, you can’t simply wipe out demand and keep everything as it was, then just start it back up again.” – I get it. So then why did we pursue such a deep and profound bailout to begin with? It seems we didn’t actually bail anything out to me. As Cranky says: MISERABLE.

              I honestly don’t know and am not prescribing anything: I just have to ask if maybe things would have been better if we had just let a couple of carriers fail? And spent $50,000,000,000.00 on almost anything else.

              And thanks for your comments – it’s nice to have a back-and-forth with such a knowledgeable group of people (and fellow avgeeks!) in such a nice, respectful way – I truly appreciate it!

      2. What you are describing, Eastern 727 Whisperjet, is the fundamental flaw in what we call “capitalism” here in the United States. Industries like the airline industry want to socialize losses but privatize gains. That is exactly what they did with the CARES bailout funds.

        It is also not as though the airlines made ZERO revenue during the pandemic. They still made money *on top of* the free, almost no-strings attached money they received from taxpayers.

        There were a few flaws with the CARES act structure, but off the top of my head I can think of two serious changes I would have made:

        1) That the funds *not* be allowed to be used to reduce headcount in any way, voluntary or not, at any point, no exceptions, period.

        2) (and this is critical) that the airlines *not* be forced to act as though it was “business as usual” and to just keep flying the same routes of half-empty planes all over the country. That’s pointless, costly busy-work. The feds *should* have said, “we’ll give you money to keep your employees on the payroll, but in exchange we are going to require you to *reduce* your schedule to avoid *unnecessary costs* with the understanding that, as demand returns, *you are able to RAPIDLY resume operations to support it* (because you didn’t put all your people on leaves of absence or early-outs because you weren’t allowed to do that and *still pocket the CARES Act funds for yourselves*).

        I recognize this would have likely involved the much-dreaded “government deciding which routes to fly,” but them’s the breaks if you want billions in aid.

        Your *other* option to the CARES act, entirely, is to build up enough resiliency in your business model to withstand major disruptions like global pandemics without government assistance. But something tells me the shareholders would throw a few snitty-snit hissy-fits about that one.

        This industry took taxpayer money to subsidize their losses and taxpayers got a crappy, unsustainable operation in return because of *specific actions that airlines took to maximize profitability over operational resiliency* and they deserve untold *MOUNTAINS* of criticism and regulation over it. It’s shameful.

    3. As for if the shutdowns were or weren’t short sighted, I think employers would be worse off without them, since more of the working age population would have died or had someone they love die. Some of the issue of where all the workers went, was some of them died, which would have been a greater number without the shutdowns.

  14. Whisperjet I also appreciate the reasoned discussion. Can be difficult these days.

    A few points. First, the industry lost more than the $50 billion number you point out. And if we’d let a few carriers fail, where would we be now? It sucks that traveling is difficult…but would you rather not be able to go at all?

    I am not going to get into the idea that we need to kill air travel to stop climate change. That’s a different subject (one that will lead to less reasoned discussion I’m sure).

    The American people are not going to tolerate jacking up air fares and preventing travel on some quixotic quest to stop something we can’t stop, but I will leave it at that.

    The reality is, the airlines had no choice but to shed planes and people. And the demand came back faster than anyone expected, and it takes time to replace that capacity. We simply need patience until that happens.

  15. Cranky and Friends, maybe we can discuss the macro zeitgeist shift in worker attitudes. 15% of US airline pilots retired. Other employee groups saw similar early retirement numbers. This means a prior generation exited the workforce. These pilots in particular are known for working themselves to death picking up too much premium and open time at the cost of their health. With them we lost values and attitudes overvaluing work ethic and responsibility that may not be reflected as well in remaining and onboarded employees. Younger pilots have wide access to alternative income streams such as Turo and Airbnb. Meanwhile younger pilots with more solid mainline careers are marrying and bearing 2-4 children. They can’t work as much while coaching T-ball in an era that values balanced egalitarian life. Those pilots married to high-income spouses also throttle back how much extra hours they fly. While women entering the workforce increases productivity overall, having two working parents with younger children must force the more flexible lifestyle worker (airline pilot) to stay home more for family matters. These social trends weave through airline employee demographic turnover and they are easy to miss.

    Employees also don’t understand (or forgot) that the airline industry was on the brink of sever contraction bankruptcy with resultant mass layoffs. Excesses of built-out comfort, inflation and MBA capital-to-substitute-labor employee perception have sowed employee discord.

    The current mindset among pilots is that management has collectively run the airlines into the ground with excess investor value return circa 2017 while hamstringing the workforce to a bankruptcy contract provisions. American in particular needs more capital improvement programs. ie. Charlotte and LAX terminal expansions.

    Thanks to all for all the good info.

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