Airlines cut back on flights as fuel prices rise and available workers decline

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Travelers should expect higher airfares until things return to normal

Just when airlines thought they were done with their pandemic-driven doldrums, they’re facing a whole other set of headaches.

With oil prices rising and available pilots to fill vacancies declining, American, Delta, United, and Southwest had already slashed scheduled flights this spring because of a shortage of staff and trainers. Now, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue are also pulling back on their normal flight schedules. Added up, things could prove problematic for travelers who want to venture out this summer.

JetBlue told its staff last week that it plans to reduce capacity by 8% to 10% at least through the end of May in an attempt to diminish the impact of seasonal weather interruptions and air traffic control disruptions, according to a report from CNBC.

“You can expect to see a similar size capacity pull for the remainder of the summer,” said JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty in a memo to its staff.

When ConsumerAffairs looked at FlightAware data for delays and cancellations, we found that JetBlue’s concerns are already playing out in real-time. On Monday, the airline reported 372 delayed flights – 35% of its scheduled departures – and 34 canceled flights. 

What this could mean for travelers

The travel world was brimming with positive business forecasts and great airfares just two months ago, but that was before Russia invaded Ukraine. That move has hurt fuel prices, and airlines are still struggling to find the necessary pilots, attendants, and crew to get airplanes from point A to point B. 

For airlines, that means trying to get by on razor-thin margins. But the real losers in this scenario are the throngs of leisure travelers who were hoping to finally get a much-needed break. They can still go places, but the list of available destinations has gone down since before the pandemic -- and fares are getting higher. 

“Travel will likely cost more this spring and summer from pent-up demand,” Steve Hafner, the chief executive of travel aggregator Kayak, told the New York Times.

Overall, Kayak searches showed that prices are up 28% compared to 2019 fares for domestic travel and 6% higher for international flights. But hopeful travelers shouldn’t give up hope, Hafner said.

“There are still deals to be found, but people should plan their trips soon to get them,” he said.

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