Summer travel: chaos on the way with confusion of masks, shortage of pilots and more

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(CNN) – Temperatures are rising, Covid cases are falling, restrictions are dropping in the blink of an eye, and summer holidays are so close you can smell the sunscreen. But leaving this year will be neither easy nor relaxing.

Experts warn that the chaos travelers have had to endure during the spring break is a harbinger of worse to come.

Anyone who thinks about it travelling by air over the next few months will face potential delays or cancellations as airlines struggle to rebuild the capacity and workforce that shrank dramatically during the pandemic.
the The Justice Department said Tuesday will appeal a court ruling that overturned the federal government’s cloaking warrant for travelers, but only if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines the warrant is still needed to protect public health.

And it’s all over, and we’re headed for a season of stress levels that would leave even the most seasoned traveler exhausted. It will take more than the prospect of a fully reclining business class seat to keep aviation anxiety at bay.

While many of the problems are around the world, it is the United States where they are most keenly felt right now. With China still subject to regular lockdowns, America is likely to regain its crown as the busiest country by air passenger numbers.

And it has just experienced its busiest weekend since Covid’s arrival, with 6.5 million travelers passing through airport security from Friday to Sunday. However, not all of them boarded their scheduled flight.

Nearly 1,000 flights into or out of the United States were canceled over the weekend, adding to the legions that failed to take off in the preceding weeks.

Safety and reduced hours

JetBlue aircraft are located at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on January 18, 2022. JetBlue recently announced that it will be withdrawing its summer schedule.

JetBlue aircraft are located at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on January 18, 2022. JetBlue recently announced that it will be withdrawing its summer schedule.

Stefani Reynolds / AFP / Getty Images

There’s more to come, with major US airlines claiming they don’t have enough pilots to fly on their schedules.

JetBlue and Alaska Airlines they have already reduced their summer hours. Others are likely to need to do the same or to play quickly and freely with what they are offering their customers.

Worse still, there could be effects on aviation safety.

A union of pilots – the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, or SWAPA – recently wrote a letter to executives highlighting increased pilot exhaustion and the warning that acute and cumulative fatigue levels were now the primary risk to flight safety. Southwest Airlines acknowledged an increase in fatigue complaints.

At the root of this problem are the measures taken by airlines to stay afloat during the early days of the pandemic, when fleets of passenger aircraft were on the ground and the sky was silent. After a cash hemorrhage, airlines quickly began unloading planes and letting go of thousands of pilots and support crews.

CNN host Alisyn Camerota and aviation correspondent Pete Muntean discussed the issue of pilot fatigue on Interview Club on Monday, one of the deals on the new CNN + streaming platform.

Driver fatigue “is something that has been bubbling up for a while,” Mutean said. “And that means the system is really stressed right now. So many people are flying again, especially during the Easter and Easter holiday weekends.”

“Airlines are generally smaller and crews are struggling to keep up,” he said.

Compounding the problem: Some pilots have reached retirement age or have decided to leave the profession, which means that major US passenger airlines have been trying to cope with a return to 90% of pre-pandemic traffic levels but with fewer people flying the planes.

And while flight crew working hours are heavily regulated, unions say making pilots work to their fullest means they are unable to take the time for the stress caused by other problems like bad weather delays. Pilots who get sick from fatigue are another reason flights will be canceled.

‘It’s getting worse’

Passengers wait in line for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1 in England on April 16, 2022. UK airports have struggled to get flights off the ground due to staff shortages.

Ioannis Alexopoulos / LNP / Shutterstock

To make matters worse, similar problems have occurred at some airports, particularly in Europe. Scenes of chaos at UK airports over the past two weeks have been attributed in part to understaffing as facilities struggle to fill positions that were streamlined during the pandemic.

This is another harbinger of trouble for the future, says the consumer advocate Christopher Elliotwho monitored the situation in the United States and Europe.
“I think it’s a preview of things to come and I think things will get worse,” says Elliott, founder of the nonprofit organization. Elliott Advocacy.

“Summer will be chaos,” he believes, so much so that he advises his followers to avoid Europe in August, the peak of the high season.

“I think we have seen some delays related to the pandemic, but I think at this point they have been put into the equation – I don’t think that’s really a legitimate excuse,” he says.

“It’s everyone’s fault but their own. If they looked in the mirror, they’d realize that during the pandemic they downsized and fired staff, and now demand is back on the rise and they’re caught off guard.” I wasn’t able to. to hire enough staff to meet demand. “

As Alaska and JetBlue are cutting flights, the sudden surge of people looking to purchase airline tickets will tempt Covid-affected airlines to try to recoup pandemic losses by selling seats to meet market demands.

But while numerous airlines are currently engaged in recruiting campaigns, paying a lot of dollars to hire new pilots, there is still the prospect that many flights in the coming months will simply not take off as planned.

Mass mask confusion

A mix of masked and unmasked travelers make their way through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on April 19, 2022. Travelers will find it difficult to navigate the latest mask changes.

A mix of masked and unmasked travelers make their way through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on April 19, 2022. Travelers will find it difficult to navigate the latest mask changes.

Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

For passengers hoping to make a much-needed trip after two years of restrictions, the expert advice is to purchase tickets as soon as possible so that the airline is also liable in the event of a flight being disrupted.

“Book now,” says Courtney Miller, chief executive of analytics at The Air Current.

“If they cancel my flight, they have to find me a new flight; if I wait, the risk is on me,” he says.

Even if passengers were to board a plane, Monday’s cancellation of the U.S. government’s cloaking mandate for airplanes could add further confusion. Many airlines have now made masks optional on board, but the rules will differ for international flights where face coverings may still be mandatory.

There is likely to be residual uncertainty about whether to wear the mask, as the latest decision thwarted a previous U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the mask’s mandate and the situation is now underway. official review.

Common consensus is elusive

Medical experts may disagree on the need to cover the flight.

Dr Leana Wen, professor of health policy and management at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, told CNN that she will personally still wear a mask on planes, trains and airports.

Broadly speaking, on Tuesday the chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers told CNN that the mandates of the travel masks should continue, at least for a little longer until the U.S. Centers for Health disease control and prevention will no longer have data on the prevalence of the sub-variant BA.2.

“We think wearing the mask on interstate transportation is still an important intervention worth continuing,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, medical director at the Association of State and Territory Health Officers.

“The biggest concern is that we want people to be safe and we are worried that we have not yet overcome the pandemic as much as people would like to be, and rates (Covid-19) are starting to rise,” Plescia said.

I play on hard ground

People wait in line to pick up a vehicle at the Avis counter at the Miami International Airport Car Rental Center on April 12, 2021. This year too, travelers may find long waits and skyrocketing prices.

People wait in line to pick up a vehicle at the Avis counter at the Miami International Airport Car Rental Center on April 12, 2021. This year too, travelers may find long waits and skyrocketing prices.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Zane Kerby, president of the American Society of Travel Advisors, warns that there may be additional headaches at the destination. For example, take car rental, another industry struggling to manage its post-pandemic pivot.

“It could be worse than last year,” he warns. “There are popular destinations in the United States – Honolulu, Los Angeles, South Florida – where prices have gone up to incredible levels.”

Last year, he was quoted $ 3,200 for a week’s rent in Hawaii.

“I didn’t want to buy the car, just rent it,” he says.

Gregory Wallace, Elizabeth Wolfe, Travis Caldwell, Amanda Jackson, and CNN’s Jacqueline Howard contributed to this story.