Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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    What to expect from flying in 2022

    By Natalie B. Compton

    After a whirlwind of coronavirus-induced complications in 2021, every bit of optimism travellers feel in the new year may come with an equal dose of trepidation.

    Omicron appears to have peaked in several countries, but what will come next? Some international travel restrictions are relaxing, but will that trend last?

    Still, the enthusiasm for travel persists. Justin Smith, owner of the luxury travel-planning company the Evolved Traveler, says “there’s just a minor hesitancy at this point,” when it comes to client interest in booking trips.

    People are accepting that the situation may continue to ebb and flow indefinitely.

    “We’re going to need to navigate this,” Smith says. “It’s going to remain fluid, but we’ll find our way through.”

    For the sake of their recovery, airlines need travellers to keep up that intrepid attitude.

    But after a particularly tumultuous few months of flight disruptions, what can those travellers expect when they board flights in 2022?

    Have airlines ironed out the staffing issues that ignited mass cancellations when omicron hit?

    Are they still offering low fares to lure back business?

    We spoke to travel experts to gauge the year to come.

    Cheap flights aren’t going anywhere yet

    Good news for people planning to fly on a budget: You will still find deals on airfare in 2022.

    “Domestic airfare is down 19% from where we were in January 2019,” says Adit Damodaran, economist for the flight and hotel booking app Hopper. “International airfare is still down 13% as well.”

    Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of “Take More Vacations,” says he predicts that affordable fares will move away from popular leisure destinations such as Hawaii and Mexico as more of the world becomes accessible.

    “Airlines are going to be taking a lot of those planes that had been flying to Honolulu and Cancún, and instead flying to Paris and Tokyo and parts of Asia Pacific that had not been open throughout the pandemic but that I’m hopeful will reopen later this year,” Keyes says.

    Flexible flight-change policies will stick

    The more odious parts of air travel – such as full flights and expensive airport food – are mostly back to normal, but one pandemic adjustment remains: fee-free flexibility.

    Steve Shur, the president of the Travel Technology Association, says many airlines have adopted a “very pro-consumer approach” by eliminating or otherwise relaxing cancellation fees. Rebooking options now include longer timelines and more destinations, too.

    Birgir Jonsson, CEO of the new low-cost carrier Play airlines, says customers have created demand for the travel industry to keep offering terms and change policies that encourage them to book trips without fear of taking a financial hit.

    Even with more companies offering flexible bookings, Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer for the travel insurance company Squaremouth, says people are still buying supplemental Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) coverage for their trips.

    CFAR tends to be expensive, plus buying it doesn’t mean you’ll get a full refund if you do decide to cancel. If you’re considering travel insurance coverage for an upcoming trip, Moncrief recommends carefully choosing an option that covers what you’re concerned about (i.e. getting stuck abroad) vs. something that may be eligible for a refund or travel voucher (like a plane ticket).

    “We say don’t buy a policy at all if your entire trip is refundable, as so many are right now,” Moncrief says.

    Business travel will see only a partial recovery

    TSA screening numbers still show that a chunk of the flying public has yet to return to the skies.

    A major missing piece of the puzzle is the business traveler. Looking at recent Deloitte surveys on corporate travel, Anthony Jackson, leader of the company’s U.S. aviation practice that provides consulting services for airlines, predicts the sector will recover to about 60 to 80% of what it looked like before the pandemic.

    According to aviation consultant Bob Mann, that’s a huge problem.

    “The number one issue facing the industry in 2022 is the timing of the return of business travel,” he says. “More specifically, the timing of a return of business travel revenue.”

    Airlines don’t make as much money off leisure travelers as they do from business ones.

    “Airlines do really rely on that business traveler that is booking a quick ticket three days in advance and maybe paying a higher fare,” Jackson says. “How that unfolds over the next year, I think, could be really critical to the airlines.”

    You will need a booster to fly to certain places

    Starting Feb. 11, international travellers to Britain don’t have to take a coronavirus test after they arrive.

    The move bodes well for those dreaming of less complicated trips abroad.

    “I think travel border restrictions are really going to start to fall by the wayside,” Keyes says, predicting that very few countries will have a ban or quarantine for vaccinated Americans by the summer.

    However, while some countries are beginning to ease border rules, passengers can expect airlines to continue enforcing international (and some domestic) travel restrictions, whether that’s showing proof of vaccination, a negative coronavirus test or proof of a recent recovery from the virus.

    Don’t assume that because you’re vaccinated you will be spared from restrictions either.

    Double-check the fine print on a destination’s coronavirus rules and the date you got vaccinated before booking a flight; some places such as Hawaii, France and Spain, are requiring a record of a booster to gather in public places.

    Shur says he doesn’t think the continuation of pandemic policies will deter people from flying, even internationally.

    He expects countries to acknowledge that the coronavirus isn’t disappearing soon and will iron out better protocols that enable safer travel.

    As a result, “we’re going to see a significant uptick in international travel, Americans traveling abroad in 2022, for sure,” he says.

    Flight disruptions will normalize – not disappear

    Keyes says he expects disruptions to be less prevalent than they were in 2021 “in part just because airlines have had more time to sort of live with this new labor situation.”

    Airlines, Keyes says, have created more systems and protocols to address labor shortages that caused so much chaos to schedules. The massive numbers of flight cancellations and delays should be behind us.

    “Even something as simple as a lot of the airlines offering increased bonus pay or overtime pay for pilots and flight attendants who come in and fill in for folks who have been not able to show up for work,” he says.

    However, certain parts of the labor shortage won’t be resolved anytime soon. For example, Mann says we will get back to having a normal pipeline of pilots entering the workforce – eventually.

    Despite efforts to recruit and train more people, he says, “I don’t think it’ll be enough pilots to make a complete recovery of the number of pilots required.”

    Even if airlines fix staffing issues, international border restrictions subside and the coronavirus becomes endemic this year, Mann says, travelers shouldn’t expect smooth sailing.

    “Everybody likes to talk about seamless travel,” Mann says. “Well, we weren’t even there in 2019, and we’re certainly not there now.”

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