Following a massive drop in demand when the pandemic hit, air travel to the United States increased, and airlines carried many leisure customers this summer. At the end of the summer, traffic slowed as is normal seasonality, but the lack of a rapid recovery in business travel has raised concerns about when the industry will truly return to some sort of normalcy. Business travel requires people to be in offices to visit, and trade shows actually taking place, and people to be comfortable in groups for meetings and meals.
The end of the year brings two vacation periods which tend to drive a lot of leisure travel. Thanksgiving is an important time for extended families to get together or for individual families to spend time together thanking and watching sports. The end of the calendar year brings people together to celebrate their faith and make plans and resolutions for the New Year. These winter vacations are good opportunities for airlines to fly more flights, serve more customers, and improve after the operational missteps of the summer. Holidays should be strong for five main reasons:
The summer experience
During the summer, the US airline industry had a high demand but was not always ready for it. Families have shown they are ready to get out of the house and have fun. So while airlines deployed a lot of capacity as demand soared, the ability to operate all of these flights proved problematic and many airlines suffered from operational issues.
This lack of execution does not diminish the strong demand for leisure and discretionary travel. Large numbers of business trips were conspicuously absent during the summer. This reality has also contributed to the unfortunate increase in on-board skirmishes, some of which have turned violent. Yet the underlying need for people to travel, especially for leisure purposes, fueled a strong rebound from 2020, when most people stayed at home. The challenge now is to manage similar increases in demand while ensuring operations are ready.
More vaccines make everyone more comfortable
Despite the noise around people fighting against vaccination warrants, 217 million people in the United States have now received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine. Considering that under 12s still cannot be vaccinated, this makes travel likely. So, by being smart and wearing masks in a crowd, there is no reason that travel cannot take place and families will likely be comfortable getting together.
The emergence of boosters and the announcement of an upcoming pill to treat the virus is also encouraging in terms of people feeling safe when traveling. Since vacations are largely family events, hotels will of course be used but not on every trip so some will find this even easier.
A lot of people seem to be fed up
Based on both anecdotal evidence and some survey data, people vaccinated are tired of being held back. Vaccinees feel they have “done it right” and should not have to endure restrictions, wearing masks and activity limits. When Dr Anthony Fauci said it was too early to determine if it would be safe to reunite for Christmas, the NY Post posted a photo of Fauci as Scrooge and a headline that read “Shut up, Fauci , we don’t need your permission to Celebrate a Party. ” Even without that rude answer, Fauci’s comments made many cringe. In most parts of the country you can eat indoors in a restaurant, many plexiglass partitions have been removed and most of the children are back in classrooms. People, especially those who are vaccinated, feel protected so why should they be held back? This feeling will likely encourage people to book trips to see their family or just for fun because they are vaccinated or feel comfortable because they have already survived the virus.
Make-up for last year’s “Christmas Zoom”
Zoom Christmas came to an end last year when a lot of people knew it was not safe to get together with a lot of people during the holidays. Vaccines were not yet available and the advice was clear and widely followed, staying safe means staying home. No doubt this was unsatisfying for a lot of people, even though they knew it was the right thing to do. A year later, with vaccines widely available and many things looking normal again, most people are happy to leave Zoom Christmas behind, get on a plane or car, and reunite with family and friends. friends. For those important social celebrations that only take place once a year, it’s too far a bridge for most people to stay at home.
Airlines are ready and prices are right
The airlines know that the vacation periods this fall are the last chance for the sun to shine to make that hay. With business travel not making a significant return, airlines are setting their schedules for Thanksgiving and late December and still have the lessons of the tough summer in their minds. Fares remain attractive for most destinations, but if bookings accelerate, expect them to increase somewhat. Despite recent flight cancellations by Southwest Airlines, airlines have learned from this summer and will likely match the flights on offer better to staff and crew availability so the vacation is not marred by operational messes. And with supply chain disruptions, a phrase that wasn’t used in mainstream discourse until the last few weeks, what better way to make sure your gifts arrive than by hand delivering them?