Travel demand is back, but that does not mean the pre-pandemic experience has yet to recover. Almost every single service sector worldwide is struggling with staffing issues and the travel industry, which is still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, is no exception.
The concern had always been that, once demand for services snapped back post-pandemic, would the industries be prepared with supply and staffing to meet that demand. But that has not been the case, either in data from the industry (employment is still 7.9% below pre-pandemic levels, with 1.3 million jobs lost) or in what’s actually happening on the ground.
Last month, reports of hour-long waits at security at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, which persisted into June, caused chaos for travelers. Cancellations and delays last weekend got so bad at several U.S. airports that USA Today called it “Travel Armageddon.” And American Airlines said this week that it was ending some services to regional airports in Iowa, New York, and Ohio starting in September because of a pilot shortage.
Travel industry voices this week in Washington D.C. for ASTA’s Legislative Day spoke about what is happening at airports and across the sector, and what consumers, and travel advisors, can do to minimize pain ahead of the busy summer travel season.
“We can be incredibly empathetic but there is this idea that the airline industry did receive $56 billion worth of aid,” Virtuoso’s Matthew Upchurch said. “There is some accountability to be had.”
“I’d like to coin a new acronym W-T-H-I-E—where the hell is everyone?” Marc Casto, a senior vice president for Flight Centre U.S. and ASTA chairperson said on Tuesday.
He added that some of the more needed jobs in the industry are the ones that need training, so “it’s going to take quite some time to reconcile that. We can’t grab someone off the street and put them in front of the plane.”
According to Upchurch, who called the staffing shortage the biggest issue impacting travel right now, one issue that can be solved is the industry becoming “more inventive” in the way it is merchandising the jobs and presenting them to the public. But that’s not a quick fix.
There are no magic tricks for beating staff shortages, but there are moves that travelers can make in order to make the experience as smooth as possible, including some simple things.
“My advice for travelers through this is why would you bother checking luggage? Ship it in advance if possible,” Casto said.
According to Culture Traveler’s Kareem George, consumers have to first, realize that using a travel advisor will allow them to be able to better deal with those disruptions. Then, being agile in how you are booking trips will make it easier to save vacations.
“Have some margins before and after the departure because things happen,” George said, adding that if you’re heading to a scheduled cruise or a tour, it’s best to anticipate any impact from flights that may cause you to miss the departure.
Ultimately, travelers are going to have to “pack your patience,” Kathryn Mazza-Burney, NEST president, said.
“Pack your patience and definitely have a backup plan,” she said. “The consumer needs to understand that there is a lot going on at these airports today.”
According to Mazza-Burney, some segments are experiencing triple-digit growth because of both demand and promotion from some of NEST’s preferred partners. That demand will level off, she added, but for right now and into next year, it is not going away.
That demand could even get stronger in the short-term—Casto added that there are at least three major populations who have not started traveling again - corporate travelers, unvaccinated travelers, and residents of China, a massive market that hasn’t reopened