Kick-off to summer travel season marked by problems, optimism

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The kickoff to the summer travel season was plagued with problems. Memorial Day weekend was marked by canceled flights across the country, which created a cascade of delays.

More than 5,000 flights were canceled around the world over the holiday weekend.

At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Delta accounted for the highest number of cancellations.

“Prior to the pandemic, Delta would go months at a time without canceling a single flight, and here they are canceling hundreds of flights,” said Kyle Potter, the executive editor of Minnesota-based website Thrifty Traveler. “This has happened to literally every single airline big and small in the country over the last year and change.”

Potter attributes the turbulence to a variety of factors, including pandemic-related cuts that left airlines short-staffed.

“You throw a bad storm in one part of the country, you throw in some air traffic control issues, you throw in an overarching pilot shortage that’s plaguing the entire airline industry right now, and you throw in COVID cases rising in your workforce — or all of these — and things fall apart, and they fall apart really fast,” Potter said.

He encourages travelers to plan for the best but expects disruptions as the summer season continues.

“Travelers are just going to be in a really tough place with some unpredictable, constantly changing conditions for a while,” said Potter.

Wayzata-based Travel Beyond Owner Craig Beal told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he has personally experienced cancellations while traveling over the last two years.

“I’ve been to Africa three times since August of 2020,” Beal said. “In two occasions, my return flight was canceled, and I was put on one the next day. It never disrupts your trip earlier, but you may have to stay around Nairobi, or Johannesburg, or Cape Town, or somewhere for an extra day at the end of your trip.”

His company specializes in planning safari trips. According to Beal, overall, there have been ‘very few’ disruptions for their clients, but hurricane season can typically cause challenges for international flights connecting through New York.

He feels optimistic about the upcoming season. Typically, June through September is peak safari season.

“Fingers crossed, if everything holds up, this will be our best year ever,” said Beal.

According to Beal, they moved about 650 trips during the pandemic.

“We have about 40 families or couples that were supposed to go to Africa in the summer of 2020 that have not yet traveled,” he said. “They’ll go this summer and kind of clear that slate, but then there’s just a full backlog of people wanting to travel.”

Beal explained young professionals have been able to build up vacation time during the pandemic, while others are traveling during time off between jobs. COVID restrictions are also easing worldwide.

“Before the pandemic, about 90% of our revenue and 80% of our volume of customers went to Africa, and the rest of our businesses was just a couple of countries in Asia and South America, which was completely locked down for two years,” said Beal. “I already saw over the weekend a few inquiries come in on our website who are seeking out specific people on our Asia team to ask about that, so I think that will come back pretty quickly.”

He encourages people who want to travel overseas to plan ahead and be flexible, given the high airfare prices, increased demand for lodging, and full flights.

“The lodges are very, very full,” said Beal. “If people have a specific wish list of what they want to do, I’d suggest they look at 2023.”