Another busy travel season is here. So, what does that mean for you?
Airport Director Buck Taft says airline staffing shortages are a very real issue. They’re seeing the impacts of that at the Tri-Cities Airport.
“We have an 88 percent load factor which is extremely high, so that shows our planes are full,” said Taft. “Normally, you can take that data to airlines and they’ll be adding flights but they do not have flights to add right now, that’s the problem. They do not have the crews to staff additional flights.”
Taft says PSC had one of the highest load factors in the Pacific Northwest in the 4th quarter of last year, meaning people are flying, they just do not have the seats.
Travel Leaders and Columbia Basin Travel CEO Julie Harrington says airlines are balancing staff shortages while trying to bounce back from the pandemic.
“Overall, there are not as many flights in the air as there were pre-pandemic, although I think they are moving back to that at a speedy rate,” said Harrington.
She adds that many flights are changing schedules more often now because there aren’t enough crew to fly and staff planes. This is something she’s seen happen specifically with Alaska Airlines recently.
Harrington says working with a travel agent might help in the event your plans do change. Another important piece of advice is if you have not booked your summer travel yet, do it now while there are more seats available.
Supply-and-demand shows us that when there is less of something, the cost is higher. The same goes for travel.
“The lack of available flights is causing an increase in fares and airlines are talking about the cost of fuel,” said Harrington.
People are still traveling despite staffing setbacks or fewer flights, though. Tri-Cities airport has better numbers now than it did through the pandemic, inching closer to 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers. Taft says through March, they are down 12 percent off of 2019.
“We’re up significantly over 2021, but 2022 compared to 2019, we’re close — in the ballpark. I feel the recovery has started and will continue,” said Taft.
Getting back to “normal” may still take some time. The flights out of PSC will be full.
“I expect elevated travel but I do not believe it’s going to be a banner year because we just do not have the seats to fill,” said Taft.
He says capacity will most likely stay down for at least another year.
“If someone brings in a bigger plane but fewer flights – we have the seats and the ability for people to fly out. There’s a fine line between having the capacity and having the volume,” said Taft. “Everyone wants to have 8 flights a day but if you can get more seats through four, do you take that? And that’s what we grapple with all the time.”
Taft says this summer travel season – he’s expecting elevated travel numbers – better than 2021 but not quite to those 2019 numbers.
Another thing coming back to the Tri-Cities airport is seasonal flights to both San Diego and Los Angles. Service to San Diego is coming back starting May 27th.