Gradek: Turbulence in travel: why is it so difficult to fly these days?

Here are answers to some key questions about current issues with air travel.

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People around the world are eager to travel again as pandemic restrictions are lifted. But those planning to hop on a plane for a vacation have been frustrated by the chaos in the airline industry. In both North America and Europe, thousands of flights have been canceled and the travel of hundreds of thousands of passengers has been interrupted.

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Things will get worse before they get better. Air Canada has announced that it will eliminate more than 150 daily flights for July and August. “Unfortunately, business is not business as usual in our industry globally, and this is impacting our operations,” Air Canada President Michael Rousseau said in an email to customers announcing the flight cuts.

So why is this happening? Here are answers to some key questions about current issues with air travel.

Q: Why are so many flights canceled or delayed?

A: The main cause of disruptions has been a shortage of qualified staff at airports to handle the recent increase in passenger traffic.

Airlines have taken advantage of recent air travel demand by returning aircraft and flight schedules to close to 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels, with the resulting volume of flights putting significant pressure on airline capacity. supporting infrastructure: airports, airports, traffic control and labor conditions.

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Air travel, measured by the number of kilometers flown by paying passengers, began to recover as pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Q: Are the problems only happening at certain airports or is it a worldwide problem?

A: The phenomenon of congestion in the 2022 summer travel season is rapidly spreading to several European and North American airports. The reason behind this concentration of congestion is quite simple: these are the air travel markets that have seen the highest volumes of air travelers in recent months.

The rapid removal of COVID-19 protocols in these markets since March has led to a significant increase in demand for air travel, with passenger volumes not seen for more than two years. This increase in volume has been evident at major airline hub airports such as Amsterdam, London, New York and Toronto, where tens of thousands of passengers are processed every day.

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Q: Are all the problems related to the pandemic?

A: When the global air travel market crashed in March 2020 with the introduction of travel restrictions and border closures, the commercial aviation industry took steps to conserve cash and maintain a minimal workforce. Hundreds of thousands of aviation workers were laid off or laid off, with years of experience and know-how removed from the ranks of the commercial aviation communities.

With the help of governments around the world, governments provided more than US$200 billion in financial support to help the commercial aviation industry maintain minimal service and avoid financial collapse.

When the demand for air travel returned this March, the hiring frenzy began, but in a very different work environment. The people who left in 2020, for the most part, moved on to other career opportunities and no longer had much interest in returning to an industry characterized by lower compensation and higher job risk. Staffing shortages therefore have their genesis in the pandemic and will continue to affect employment levels as travel returns.

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Q: How many more people are traveling these days compared to a year ago and compared to pre-pandemic levels?

A: The International Air Transport Association publishes air travel statistics related to the volume of air travel in various world markets. It has observed that there is a significant difference in the volume of air travel, compared to 2021 and pre-pandemic levels.

The air travel market that has shown the biggest rebound has been domestic North America: travel for April 2022 is up more than 280% compared to April 2021 traffic levels, but remains slightly over 30%. % below April 2019 levels.

In the Chinese domestic market, ongoing pandemic-related travel restrictions and occasional city closures have resulted in reduced traffic levels of almost 80% in April 2022, compared to April 2021 and 2019.

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Q: What can be done to avoid delays?

A: There are a number of perspectives that can be applied to a resolution of the current level of backlogs.

European authorities have announced targeted reductions in flights, while the US government is threatening to impose flight reductions as a means of minimizing flight cancellations.

The Canadian government facilitated a meeting with the major aviation organizations in Canada to discuss a concerted and effective resolution and Air Canada announced measures it intended to implement to alleviate congestion at Toronto Pearson and Montreal Trudeau airports.

Canadian government officials have also announced plans to hire nearly 2,000 additional border control and security employees to deal with specific congestion issues. Labor groups are not sure such actions will address congestion problems.

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The main problem is the volume of air travelers that are attracted to the airport environment by the volume of flights operated by airlines. Airlines have decided to increase their capacity to meet the growing demand for air travel, but airport infrastructure is not equipped to handle such volumes.

While such enthusiasm on the part of the airline industry is laudable at a time when adequate and experienced staff are available at airports, that is not the case now, and will not be the case for the foreseeable future.

Q: How long will this last?

A: The summer travel season is in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere. Additional airline capacity and increased demand for air services from a travel-hungry population will continue through at least September.

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Unless the actions contemplated by U.S., European, and Canadian carriers result in a reduction in the peak load of aircraft movements at major airline hubs, primarily in North America and Western Europe, congestion and delays will continue and possibly worsen.

Relief will most likely come in the fall, as demand for air travel slows with the arrival of the school season. Staffing will also reach required levels by the fall, with the arrival of normal commercial air operating conditions.

Other issues that may reduce demand include higher airfares due to inflation and higher oil prices, which may affect the survival of some airlines.

Q: What advice would you give to air travelers in the coming months?

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A: Airport authorities have provided guidance to travelers on how best to prepare for summer travel, including tips on how to avoid delays at security checkpoints.

In this upcoming summer of disruption, I would advise travelers to approach their air travel with patience, make sure they are well rested before leaving for the airport, and remember that airline staff are also experiencing stressful times throughout their day.

A smile, a thank you and, above all, an attitude of solidarity with fellow travelers and staff is required. The experience of traveling by plane will improve.

John Gradeck is faculty professor and program coordinator, supply chain, logistics, and operations management at McGill University. This article was originally published by The conversation.

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