One Air Travel Expert Weighs in on Flight Cancellations

"When travel demand started rebounding much quicker than they anticipated, the airlines were caught flat-footed," says Scott Keyes

A black and white photo of a person sitting alone in an airport terminal looking out the window
It's a strange time for air travel these days.

If you’ve been following the current state of air travel, you might have noticed that a lot of flights are being canceled these days. A certain number of cancellations are to be expected due to factors beyond anyone’s control, but the extent to which travelers’ schedules have been regularly disrupted this summer points to something much larger afoot.

After travelers have had to get acclimated to one “new normal” with the pandemic, is the current moment of insecurity yet another “new normal” for them to cope with? In a new piece for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson spoke with Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights, who offered an expert perspective on the industry’s problems.

In Keyes’s telling, the airlines are stuck in an awkward position, having to deal with a population that’s flocked back to air travel with a fervor that the airlines didn’t anticipate. “[Airlines] assumed that this was going to be a six-year recovery period, not an 18-month recovery period,” he told The Atlantic. “So when travel demand started rebounding much quicker than they anticipated, the airlines were caught flat-footed.”

Further complicating matters, Keyes said, is the fact that neither training pilots nor building passenger jets is an especially rapid process.

One of the most interesting statistics Keyes cited has to do with the way in which air travel is rebounding. “Leisure travel has fully rebounded, whereas business travel is still down 30 percent,” he said. That has its own set of cascading effects, from making security lines longer to benefitting the budget airlines that focus on leisure travelers.

There is good news to be had, though. Keyes sees all of this as a temporary issue. “Cheap flights aren’t gone forever,” he told The Atlantic. “They’re just gone for this summer.” Which is encouraging for fall and winter travelers — unless, of course, the colder weather brings another big pandemic surge.


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