Air Travel Happiness Report: Optimism Turns to Anxiety as Travelers Return to the Skies
November 1, 2021
It’s official: air travel is back. In fact, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) throughput data shows airport checkpoint screenings were up to roughly 80% of pre-pandemic passenger levels. Everyone, it seems, is hopeful that we can begin jet-setting to our favorite destinations again now that the world begins to open back up.
However, the return to the skies isn’t proving to be without turbulence ahead. We decided to analyze the last year based on a number of factors, from mishandled bags to plane delays and everything in between, to get a sense of how passenger sentiment has changed over the past year and what we can expect as we head into the 2021 holiday travel season.
In March 2021, there was a ray of hope for the travel industry, as more than 1.4 million people were screened at TSA security checkpoints on both Thursday, March 18th and Friday, March 19th, which were levels last seen in March 2020 – when air travel came to a screeching halt.
But, as the number of screened passengers increased, so too did the number of mishandled bags. June 2021 reported more than double the number of mishandled bags than in March 2021, and the trend is only expected to continue.
Passengers are also filing more complaints concerning baggage. We’ve seen an incredible 91% increase in baggage complaints over the last year (since July 2020). But, the most recent months’ 60% surge in complaints (from May to June 2021) is what really foretells what’s to come for travelers.
While flight delays have always been an unwelcome part of air travel, passengers have never experienced the number or severity of delays as we are today. There were just 15,299 delays in June 2020, and 129,371 in June 2021, an increase in delays of 846%!
Delays overall are becoming more and more common, and they certainly aren’t due solely to weather conditions. The number one reason for delay is categorized as “air carrier delays”—factors that are within the airline’s control, such as maintenance issues or crew shortage.
This isn’t surprising given the number of recent news reports detailing the debilitating airline staffing shortage that’s plaguing the industry — something that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
Without crew available, carriers are forced to delay or cancel flights entirely, prompting passengers to file complaints, with refunds being the primary reason for doing so over the last year, with a total of 15,528 refund complaints being filed from June 2020 – June 2021.
In 2020, there were very few passengers bumped from their flights (for obvious reasons) but 2021 has already seen a 50% increase in bumped passengers (both voluntarily and involuntarily bumped) from January to June. Now that empty middle seats are a thing of the past, we’re willing to bet that that number will only be pushed higher as the holiday travel season approaches.
2021 Holiday Travel Expectations
If the numbers above are any indication, it appears that holiday travel is going to be a real headache. Mishandled bags, radical delays, and increases in oversales/bumped passengers are poised to be on the travel itinerary this year.
In addition, serious staffing shortages in the industry will ultimately lead to further airline issues.
The Final Verdict
Our first semi-annual Travel Happiness Report unfortunately paints a bleak picture for airline passengers who were understandably upset – and clearly unhappy – this past year.
However, there are a number of steps consumers can take in order to better prepare for the tumultuous travel times ahead:
- Consider purchasing “cancel for any reason” travel insurance. Most trip insurance only reimburses you 100% for money lost when you cancel a trip for a reason listed in the policy. But, if you’re looking to cancel for a reason not listed, consider upgrading your insurance to have “cancel for reason” (CFAR) travel insurance, which expands the reasons for cancellation beyond those listed in the base policy.
- Book early and be flexible with dates. According to travel site Hopper, you should book no later than Thanksgiving to score the best prices for Christmas travel. Starting in November, domestic airfare prices are estimated to increase by about 40 percent. And, if you’re able to avoid traveling on the most popular travel dates, like the day after Christmas, you’ll save a lot of money in the process.
- Invest in TSA PreCheck. Security wait times are also expected to increase this holiday season, so it’s wise to skip the regular lines with TSA PreCheck. That line is usually less crowded, too, so it can help when trying to remain socially distant from the other people in line.
- Reserve your rental car now. Rental car agencies drastically downsized their fleets in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a worldwide microchip shortage has made replacing those cars very difficult and is fueling the rental car shortage (and subsequent rise in rental car prices). Industry analysts expect the shortage to last well into 2022, so the sooner you can lock in a car for your upcoming trip, the better.
- Use a luggage shipping service to ship your bags in advance of your trip. With the number of delays ever increasing, so too are the chances of missing a connecting flight. With LugLess, feel confident in knowing that no matter how long it takes you to arrive at your destination, your bags will be safely waiting for you at your home, hotel or Airbnb. In addition, you’ll be able to expedite your time in and out of the airport, avoiding high contact points like baggage claim and check-in altogether. Plus, with our new digital labels, all you need is a phone to quickly schedule your bags for shipment.
We analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Reports for 2020 and 2021, focusing on the months between June 2020 and June 2021, as data was available.
Categories: Causes of Delay
(according to the U.S. Department of Transportation)
Air Carrier Delay: The cause of the cancellation or delay was due to circumstances within the airline’s control (e.g. maintenance or crew problems, etc.).
Extreme Weather Delay: Significant meteorological conditions (actual or forecasted) that, in the judgment of the carrier, delays or prevents the operation of a flight.
National Aviation System Delay: Delays and cancellations attributable to the national aviation system refer to a broad set of conditions — non-extreme weather conditions, airport operations, heavy traffic volume, air traffic control, etc.
Security Delay: Delays caused by evacuation of terminal or concourse, re-boarding of aircraft because of security breach, inoperative screening equipment and long lines more than 29 minutes at screening areas.
Late Arriving Aircraft Delay: Previous flight with same aircraft arrived late which caused the present flight to depart late.
A “cancelled” flight is a flight that was not operated, but was in the carrier’s computer reservation system within 7 days of the scheduled departure.
A “diverted” flight is a flight which is operated from the scheduled origin point to a point other than the scheduled destination point in the carrier’s published schedule.
(according to the U.S. Department of Transportation)
Flight Problems: Cancellations, delays, or any other deviations from schedule, whether planned or unplanned.
Oversales: All bumping problems, whether or not the airline complied with DOT oversales regulations.
Reservations, Ticketing, Boarding: Airline or travel agent mistakes made in reservations and ticketing; problems in making reservations and obtaining tickets due to busy telephone lines or waiting in line, or delays in mailing tickets; problems boarding the aircraft (except oversales).
Fares: Incorrect or incomplete information about fares, discount fare conditions and availability, overcharges, fare increases and level of fares in general.
Refunds: Problems in obtaining refunds for unused or lost tickets, fare adjustments, or bankruptcies.
Baggage: Claims for lost, damaged or delayed baggage, charges for excess baggage, carry-on problems, and difficulties with airline claims procedures.
Customer Service: Rude or unhelpful employees, inadequate meals or cabin service, treatment of delayed passengers.
Disability: Civil rights complaints by air travelers with disabilities.
Advertising: Advertising that is unfair, misleading or offensive to consumers.
Discrimination: Civil rights complaints by air travelers (other than disability); for example, complaints based on race, national origin, religion, etc.
Animals: Loss, injury or death of an animal during air transport provided by an air carrier.
Other: Frequent flyer, smoking, tours credit, cargo problems, security, airport facilities, claims for bodily injury, and others not classified above.