Labor Day travel expected to near pre-pandemic levels

Holidays

FILE – People wait in a TSA line at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on June 28, 2022, in New York. Tens of thousands of flyers had their travel plans upended Friday, Aug. 5, after airlines canceled more than 1,100 flights for a second straight day because of thunderstorms hitting the East Coast. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

CHICAGO (NewsNation) — Amid months of mass flight cancellations and delays, the number of Americans traveling for Labor Day is expected to rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

An estimated 137 million Americans are expected to hit the highways, byways and airways this weekend, according to AAA. Of those, 12.6 million are flying.

Domestic travel is up 20% compared to 2019, according to Hopper, but headaches that hit travelers earlier in the summer are still lingering.

“Get in that line — while you’re in the line, get on the phone, get that airline representative on the phone or travel agent on the phone to help you simultaneously. You never know who you’re gonna get first, the faster you’ll get a seat on the next flight out,” said Abby Estevez, a travel adviser.

According to FlightAware, there have been 10,722 delays in the U.S. this week, and 2,325 cancellations.

But help for vacationers may be on the way this travel-heavy weekend. The Department of Transportation launched a customer service dashboard on Thursday.

The dashboard is part of an extended pressure campaign from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has publicly challenged the major carriers to improve service and transparency after a summer marred by cancellations and flight delays. As summer travel returned to nearly pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, airlines struggled to keep pace, with mass cancellations being blamed on staffing shortages, particularly among pilots.

The dashboard compares all the major domestic airlines’ policies on issues such as which offer meals for delays of more than three hours and which offer to rebook flights on the same or different airlines at no additional charge. It focuses on what it calls “controllable” cancellations or delays — meaning those caused by mechanical issues, staffing shortages or delays in cleaning, fueling or baggage handling. Delays or cancellations caused by weather or security concerns do not count.

Buttigieg asked airlines, at a minimum, to provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more, and lodging for anyone who has to wait overnight because of a delay within the airlines’ control.

The Department of Transportation is hoping that the dashboard will encourage competition among airlines to offer the most transparency and the best protections for customers.

So far this year, airlines have canceled about 146,000 flights, or 2.6% of all flights, and nearly 1.3 million flights have been delayed, according to tracking service FlightAware. The rate of cancellations is up about one-third from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, and the rate of delays is up nearly one-fourth.

Federal officials have blamed many of the disruptions on understaffing at airlines, which encouraged employees to quit after the pandemic started. The airlines have countered by blaming staffing problems at the Federal Aviation Administration, which employs air traffic controllers.

Meanwhile, if you plan to hit the road, expect to pay less at the pump. GasBuddy reports the average price of gas is $3.89 per gallon, and it will continue to drop. You can save by shopping around using the GasBuddy app.

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