The Daily Flyer
Welcome to the June 1, 2022, edition of “The Daily Flyer,” The Higher Flyer‘s newsletter that gathers up and summarizes some of the most important happenings in the world of airlines, hotels, award points, and other travel-related subjects. Today’s feature covers the uninspired state of the travel industry – and what you can do about it – as we head in to an unprecedented period, as well as the ongoing passenger crisis at Amsterdam Schiphol, some takes on the best brand in the airline industry, and a refreshing Twitter account bringing sanity and honesty to award points blogging.
The Headline Feature
Memorial Day – which unofficially kicks off summer vacation in the United States – passed by this week, and North Americans and Europeans are now firmly in the throes of an extraordinary travel season. Tourists totaling millions once waylaid by the pandemic are out for “revenge” in 2022, and for better or for worse, airports are no longer apocalyptically desolate.
Terminals nowadays are chock full of humanity, and with the number of trips taken slated to increase through August, conditions are likely to grow even more unpleasant as the summer progresses. Operational meltdowns seem to be near daily occurrences as it is, and with each cancelled flight, it becomes abundantly more clear how utterly unprepared the industry is for this moment. The Los Angeles Times has a comprehensive guide complete with visuals documenting why airlines are struggling so mightily to perform their routine duties (click here to read it), and the consequences of their shortcomings are brutal: passengers are frequently asked to pay the price for corporate failures. Savvy higher flyers, however, don’t always have to suffer these indignities if they know how to navigate the mess. So, here are the three most common problems travelers face this year, brief explanations of why they exist and why they matter, and some suggestions to help you mitigate their effects:
1. Prices are absurdly exorbitant
“Why are flights so expensive?”
Basic economic principles dictate that when the demand for something is high, its price will match. As most of the world moves into a post-pandemic phase and restrictions are correspondingly lifted, people who’ve been stuck at home want to adventure out now more than ever; airfares naturally reflect this. Soaring gas prices have received some of the blame for cost increases, but their influence is secondary to rising consumer demand. Further driving price hikes are airlines’ (and hotels’) desires to recoup profits lost due to COVID-19, and when one company proves it can charge astronomical rates, its competitors follow.
“If I’m beholden to both economics, gas prices, and powerful corporations, why bother?”
No one likes paying more money than usual in order to travel exactly as they did before, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent for fulfilling a goal. A trip might require more careful planning, but you can still fly this summer without breaking the bank.
“Can I make compromises to save money?”
Flights and hotels appear to be prohibitively expensive in Summer 2022, but higher flyers can attest: there are alternative ways to pay for a trip. Frequent flyer miles and award points will be extraordinarily useful this year — learn how to leverage them if you haven’t already, or hire a travel consultant to do the work for you — and be sure to pay attention to some of the booking best practices. Two particularly useful pointers include:
- Early-to-mid July features a number of national holidays observed throughout North America and Europe, which in turn makes for pricier rates. Mid-August generally offers more affordable options.
- Two one-way flights might be cheaper, more convenient, and more flexible than a single round-trip. You could also explore paying cash for one leg, and redeeming points for the other.
2. Reliability is horrendous
“Why are flights being cancelled?”
Weather troubles are as old as flying itself, and when thunder and lightning and wind won’t relinquish, oftentimes there’s no better solution than waiting until it passes. Unfortunately though, these situations aren’t that simple, and carriers sometimes struggle to re-adjust their operations as rolling storms incite rolling delays. Having system redundancies, such as unencumbered aircraft and crew reserves, make contingency planning easier, but airlines have been short the necessary manpower due to pandemic-induced layoffs; Spring disruptions confirmed these deficiencies. If only they had been gifted a windfall to prevent this exact issue from unfolding…
“Why should I care when these problems aren’t my fault?”
Aside from the immensely obvious answer – do you want to wait hours for a delay only for your flight to be cancelled? – disruptions can have network-wide consequences with cascading effects. Limitations imposed by crew rest regulations and corporate HR policies, as well as limited resources (like actual airplanes), means that rescheduling a flight can leave future routes without planes and pilots. When this happens, everyone, including employees, ends up feeling put-out, taken for granted, and many, of course, waylaid.
“Do I have recourse?”
If you find yourself stuck in transit, the easiest course of action is to let your airline rebook you. After all, a cancelled flight is the carrier’s fault, and it’s obligated to get you where you need to go (and possibly pay out compensation to those originating in the European Union)… eventually. Passivity might seem like the best course of action, but those actively searching for alternatives are more-frequently rewarded with the best-case scenario outcome. You’ll want to engage with the airline’s customer service team through as many channels possible; this includes by phone (be sure to use a priority line if you have access to one, and try calling an international call center, too), by Facebook Messenger or Twitter DMs, and/or by seeking in-person support from a customer service desk, a gate agent, or, if you have access, a lounge receptionist/concierge. Come to each conversation prepared, having researched other available flights and routings beforehand (ExpertFlyer is a great tool, but Google Flights is plenty sufficient, too). There’s no harm in asking if you can be put on the standby list for a specific flight, after all, and the best case scenario is that you’ll know you’re a step closer to your destination.
3. General chaos abounds
“Why are airports and airplanes so chaotic?”
Beyond the irritants inherent to contemporary air travel – lines, cramped spaces, and unreasonable and inconvenient rules to name a few – people have been acting unusually (to put it charitably) since the pandemic’s outbreak. With personal frustrations boiling over into already-stressful public settings like airports and airplanes, where such existing pressures are compounded by the aforementioned sky-high prices and reliability woes, it’s only natural that tensions and tempers flare. These reasons obviously aren’t excuses to assault other people, belligerently spew hate speech, and act on your worst natural urges, but certainly they reflect greater societal trends: people are uneasy and behave as such.
“I behave just fine, so why am I paying the price for others’ misdeeds?”
For many, airports and airplanes are unpleasant places to be, and anxious energy begets nervousness, frustration, and anger. Remember to be kind to others – no one actually chooses to feel these ways.
“What can I do to avoid pandemonium?”
If the current flying environment is too overwhelming – and who could blame you for feeling that way? – there are solutions available to help negate many of the hostile conditions. For example, a terminal’s hustle and bustle might be intimidating, but you can visit a quiet lounge (accessible by way of elite status, a credit card perk, or a single-use day pass) for refuge. Non-denominational chapels available at major airports can be used to the same effect, too. Services like TSA PreCheck and CLEAR can help bypass endless lines, and many airlines will let you buy priority boarding to help you settle in to your flight faster. If possible, consider using frequent flyer miles to upgrade your seat, or better yet, your class of service. None of these guarantee immunity from unruliness, but they could bring tangible, calming benefits to your own experiences (which in turn would help prevent you from introducing more negative energy).
While performing their basic functions doesn’t warrant praise, airlines are gradually beginning to correct for their errors so you don’t have to. American Airlines has introduced a new tool that more efficiently manages its hub operations (in theory resulting in fewer delays and cancellations), while JetBlue has taken the drastic step of pre-emptively trimming its summer schedule; Delta has since followed to great hullabaloo. We can hope these adjustments will make the difference in preventing future operational AND customer service meltdowns similar to what Delta suffered over Memorial Day weekend.
As has been the refrain for years now, this [headache] too shall pass, and perhaps the days of pre-pandemic normalcy and a less volatile travel industry aren’t too far away. Higher flyers have a number of tools available to them to help mitigate the various issues beleaguering the industry in the meantime – plus a consulting service! – but it shouldn’t have to be like this: airlines need to be better.
From The Higher Flyer
From the Archives: “Top 10: Ways to fly higher (and get more value from your money!)”
Despite being published before the pandemic, this top-10 list contains relevant and useful tips to help guide your own higher flying ambitions. This is a must-read refresher for anyone — especially those who have been in COVID-induced hibernation — looking to travel during the dreadfully expensive summer season; it details some of the most effective ways to maximize your purchasing power.
Anyway, aside from regular entries in the recurring “Photo of the Week!” series, The Higher Flyer has been on a hiatus thus far in 2022. Expect more obviously airline/hotel/points-centric posts in the future, but in the meantime, here are the pictures – and accompanying commentaries – shared so far in 2022:
- Clouds Springing Forward
- Emerald Day, Emerald Season
- Colors and a Corporation
- Hawaiian cliffs and a self portrait
- Hiking into sunlight
- Play ball, Jackie Robinson
- End of the World
- Together again…
- Prepare for takeoff
- A late spring picnic
- Gone fishin’
Other developments, discussions, and articles in higher flying
Three things worth reading from around the web.
1. Chaos befalls Amsterdam Schiphol airport; KLM temporarily halts ticket sales
The three issues plaguing summer travelers – absurd prices, poor operational reliability, and general pandemonium – have reached breaking points at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport over the past week; the outcomes are horrifyingly fascinating. Riots, for example, have broken out because of flight cancellations, exorbitant change fees, and too-long lines at security. These developments are noteworthy in and of themselves, but they’re downright surprising considering the airport’s sterling reputation. With the hopes of clearing out its backlog of stranded passengers, KLM is trialing an unorthodox solution: surge pricing on its flights. By limiting seats to only those who can afford to fly, the Dutch flagbearer is hoping that it can fill its remaining seats with standby passengers eager to get to their destinations. Does this foreshadow what’s to come elsewhere if current conditions persist?
Sourced from Le Monde and Reuters, with more salacious details from The Independent, and added analysis from Live and Let’s Fly.
2. What are the top airline brands?
While the list is entirely subjective, Lucky from One Mile At A Time shares his thoughts on the world’s best airline brands. As he typically does with his blog, Lucky backs up his assertions with thoughtful and tangible evidence, and the post inadvertently offers some higher flyer inspiration, too, all of which leaves readers wanting to sample new experiences. Using hard and soft products, route networks, marketing campaigns, and other like sentiments as his criteria, he ranks (and justifies) his top three as Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines. Add in a lively comments section, and you’ll be treated to one of his better recent postings.
Sourced directly from One Mile At A Time.
3. The Fake Points Travel Blogger’s comedic genius
As it has with so many other aspects of travel, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the higher flyer-related media scene. While the titans of the blogosphere soldier on, the content they produce doesn’t rival their pre-2020 outputs. Blame it on limited opportunities to travel, or on creative droughts, or on changing SEO algorithms, or on all of these things combined and/or some entirely different factors, but many regular readers lament how uninspired the “hobby” (as old-timers frequently refer to high flying) has seemingly become. Gone are inspiring trip reports and travel hacks, and in come tabloid-esque coverage of airport brawls, and way, way too many credit card pitches (among other things). The Fake Points Travel Blogger’s Twitter account doesn’t solve these problems, but its sharp, pointed commentary is good for laughs. See for instance:
Other times, @TravelFake will directly call out bloggers:
if you’re interested, you can click here to follow @TravelFake’s Twitter account.
… And that’s it for now. Got any tips? Questions? Comments? Email anything and everything to Paul@TheHigherFlyer.org, or comment below! In the meantime, thanks for reading, fly higher, and see you soon!
Curious about yesterday’s news today? Click here to see past entries of “The Daily Flyer.”
June 1, 2022 at 11:33 am
Great work Paul! It’s unfortunate that the uncertainty/restrictions around travel during the pandemic have been replaced by uncertainty and limitations from the airlines themselves. I’m looking forward to your insights as the madness sorts out!
June 1, 2022 at 12:26 pm
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Lauren, and I’m glad you’ll be staying tuned for future content! For better or for worse, the coming season will be fascinating!