Rising fuel prices have impacted airline travel. Be prepared, and adjust your plans accordingly.
Continental Airlines plans to slash 3,000 jobs and reduce domestic flights in an effort to reduce operating costs. The cuts include pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, administrative personnel, and management.
"These actions will help Continental survive the crisis," wrote Chairman and Chief Executive Larry Kellner, and President Jeff Smisek, in a letter to Continental's 45,000 employees. In a move to demonstrate a personal response and commitment, the executives also announced that they would forgo incentive pay for the rest of 2008.
It has been estimated that charges for fuel will be $2.3 billion higher in 2008 than in the previous year. Beginning in September, Continental will decrease capacity by 11%, and will remove 67 airplanes from the fleet by the end of 2009.
United Airlines announced 14% reduction of capacity planned for fourth quarter of 2008. United Airlines is cutting 1,600 jobs.
United Airlines said that it will eliminate Ted, the discount arm of the airline launched in 2004. Ted catered to leisure travelers with only coach-class seating, but in the spring of 2009, the 56 Airbus A320's will be reconfigured with first class seats and returned to the United Airlines fleet. At the same time, United Airlines will retire 94 Boeing 747's as unprofitable planes and routes.
Delta announced 10% reduction of capacity in the fourth quarter of 2008.
American Airlines announced plans to reduce capacity by 12% in the fourth quarter of 2008.
As oil prices continue to rise, airlines are forced to respond with fewer flights, fewer routes, less staff, more passengers per plane, and higher prices. Reduced capacity translates to fewer flights, and this means that many of the smaller airports may be the first to feel the pinch. While some travelers may have enjoyed the convenience of smaller airports for proximity or to avoid the crowds of large airports, the availability of flight options may be greatly reduced. Airlines simply cannot afford to move aircraft with empty seats, so expect full flights, or expect that route to be on the chopping block.
In an effort to increase the number of passengers per plane, flights that do not have enough passengers may be canceled to combine passengers with other flights to the same destination. While many frequent flyers have experienced this interruption in travel plans in the past, it is likely to become commonplace while the airlines adjust to the new demands. When incomplete flights are combined, the result is typically an overbooking situation, which means more passengers than seats. As a result, some passengers may be temporarily stranded in a city overnight, pending an available flight the following day. Overbooking will become even more common as airlines endeavor to keep prices down by filling every seat on the plane.
What does all this mean to you?
Expect full flights. You will be able to tell your grandchildren about the days when you secretly counted the remaining number of individuals boarding the plane in hopes that you would have an empty seat between the window and aisle. Your grandchildren will think that you are making up stories when you tell them about the complimentary meals and movies that you enjoyed on the plane ride. One day the free meals and movies may sound as ridiculous as allowing smoking on a plane, imagine that.
Expect longer delays at security and check-in counters. Yes it is true, security is becoming more efficient, and automated check-in counters are intended to facilitate faster service. Nonetheless, as routes are consolidated and oversold crowds are consolidated into flight patterns that maximize the productivity of reduced staff to handle them, human traffic jams will occur. It is inevitable that consolidation will occur in the battle to control price increases, and in many ways the check-in lines will more often resemble the crowded lines at theme parks, mouse ears and all.
When possible, book direct flights. While this may be slightly more expensive than those connecting flights that enabled you to eat lunch in Houston and dessert in Orlando, it will also decrease your risk of spending an unexpected evening in Texas. When making your travel plans, consider the risk of an unexpected hotel and transportation in a connecting city, while your luggage goes on without you. Try to schedule your travel on morning flights, as opposed to the typical evening business flights, to allow greater opportunity for another flight without an overnight delay. If you do need to book a connecting flight, make sure that you have at least one hour between flights at the connecting airport. Remember that next flight boards thirty minutes before the scheduled flight time, which means that your seat could be on the roulette wheel if there is any delay on your original flight. Take responsibility to check your travel carefully when booking flights, and reduce your risks.
Allow some flexibility in your schedule, just in case you are delayed. Whether your travel is personal or professional, you will get where you need to go, eventually. If all goes well, you will arrive on time, and without incident. In the event that you are delayed, or your plans need to be adjusted, remember to always be courteous to the individual on the other side of the counter. Odds are that the staff member has lost many good friends and colleagues in the workforce reduction, and is now striving to do multiple jobs at once. Have compassion, for they are attempting to resolve the personal challenges for every passenger, every inconvenience, and every emergency that comes over the counter. Show your compassion, and you are more likely to receive a little in return.
As airline travel is impacted, it will have a domino effect on the rest of the travel industry. As prices increase, leisure travel diminishes, and routes are eliminated, so too must car rental companies adjust the inventory of available vehicles at appropriate airports. Consider booking your car well in advance, especially when traveling to a popular destination or busy airport. It will become more likely for car rental agencies to sell out.
The hospitality industry will also be impacted by decreased activity. Although this will be a delayed result, based on the adjusted number of travelers, the good news is that hotels may offer competitive discounts and incentives to retain loyal customers. You should sign-up for programs and be vigilant for special deals.
Those special airline rates for leisure travelers, and the last minute special deals for under $100, are likely to disappear. Prices for all seats are expected to increase, and fewer route options with fuller flights will mean that special discounts will be placed on the endangered species list. And for those hardy business travelers who have saved those frequent flyer miles in hopes of tropical vacation paradise, expect black-out periods and greater advance planning to use those miles in the crowded skies. If fuel prices continue to rise, consider your options to use those accumulated miles this year. Rising costs will force some airlines to introduce even more restrictions on the use of accumulated miles, since these free seats become a liability to cash-flow. Airlines have adjusted the policies on mileage in the past, and are likely to do it again in 2009. Your mileage may not be protected if your carrier of choice is forced to merge, be acquired, or enforce restrictions as a part of an economic reorganization plan. Take a break of the bad news of rising gas prices and fuel charges, and use your miles to go on a well earned vacation while you can still get the most for your miles.
It's not all bad news. If hotels offer special rates, you might find some nice local vacation packages before the end of 2008, and early 2009. Rising fuel prices, reduced routes, and prohibitive restrictions on air travel may encourage more businesses to use teleconferencing, VOIP, and other technology to collaborate over long distances. A little less travel may mean a little more time at home, and that is always a good thing.
Words of Wisdom
"The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage." - Mark Russell
"The saying "Getting there is half the fun" became obsolete with the advent of commercial airlines."
- Henry J. Tillman
"Here's what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey." - Kurt Vonnegut
John Mehrmann is author of The Trusted Advocate: Accelerate Success with Authenticity and Integrity, the fundamental guide to achieving extraordinary sales and sustaining loyal customers. This revolutionary book applies peak management techniques and leadership skills, with common sense and practical applications to grow business, sustain loyal customers, and use personal talents for personal success.