Travelers in the United States will be taking to the skies in record numbers again this summer. And when they do, it is likely they will have to relive the flight delays, staff shortages, soaring prices, long security wait times and other frustrations that plagued flyers during the summer travel surge of 2022.
Like Europe, expect the United States to see its own travel hiccups and disruptions over the summer. Here's what you should know heading into the summer travel season.
Expect high demand, prices
Expedia’s latest travel forecast shows flight searches up 25% for June through August travel, compared to the same time last year, and interest up by triple digits for international destinations across Europe and Asia. And those flight searches are turning into air ticket purchases. In its most recent earnings report, for example, US carrier Delta Air Lines reported record advance bookings for the summer.
But unless you snagged one of the high-priced international business class seats that All Nippon Airways (ANA) mistakenly sold for as little as $300 in April, it may be difficult to find a great airfare deal for summer travel.
Online travel agency Hopper says the price of airfare for domestic summer trips is currently trending a bit below 2022 levels, but about 16% higher than before the pandemic. And international airfare remains significantly higher than before the pandemic, due to “low supply of seats, high demand and overall higher costs, including high jet fuel prices,” said Hayley Berg, Hopper’s Lead Economist.
Challenges for summer travel in the US
Travelers who spring for those summer travel airfares will find plenty of challenges in airports and in the air. The US already experienced a rocky winter holiday travel season when winter weather combined with a technology meltdown caused Southwest Airlines to cancel more than 16,000 flights at the end of December.
Passenger volumes at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints now routinely meet and exceed pre-pandemic numbers and are expected to spike in the summer, especially at the airports that already had high spring break numbers. That means even the TSA Precheck lines may be longer than you’re expecting and you’ll need to make sure to arrive at the airport extra early.
Staffing shortages, from airport bartenders and baristas to TSA officers, airline pilots, and air traffic controllers may also create long wait lines and flight delays at many airports.
Add to the mix the inevitable summer weather delays, flights delayed or turned around due to unruly passengers or mechanical issues, and technology glitches, you have all the ingredients needed for a summer of travel trouble.
How to navigate air travel this summer in the United States
While many travel challenges are out of your control, there are strategies that can ease your journey.
Still shopping for tickets? Many airlines and online travel sites, including Google Flights, Hopper, Expedia and others now offer some form of price freeze or price drop protection to make it easy to lock in a good (or reasonable) fare.
Check your passport, renew early. The US State Department’s passport renewal processing time has spiked way up, to an average of 10 to 13 weeks, not including the time it takes for the documents to travel by mail.
Pack light and pack smart. Avoid checking bags if you can and, if you must check a bag, put a tracker in it. Still relearning your packing techniques? Consult TSA’s handy “What Can I Bring?” tool to make sure you don't inadvertently pack a baseball bat, bear spray or some other prohibited item in your carry on bag.
Make a list. Put reservation confirmation numbers and phone numbers for all elements of your trip (airline, car rental, hotel, cruise, etc.) in one place - and print it out - so the information is easily accessible should you need to scramble and rebook or adjust your schedule due to a flight delay or cancellation.
Use airport conveniences. TSA Precheck and airline lounge access are great. If you do not have those perks, keep in mind that many airports now have mobile food ordering and gate delivery of meals. And at almost a dozen airports in North America, including Seattle, Phoenix, Orlando and Vancouver, B.C. travelers can make a reservation for a time to go through airport security screening.