Airlines, tourists brace for travel disruptions as summer surges

More people are expected to travel this summer than last, according to Deloitte's annual summer travel survey. Half of the respondents to the survey say they plan to travel this summer, and those who do plan to spend more than last year.

This comes despite inflationary pressures and an increase in airfares. Airlines for America predicts a 6.3% increase in passengers from this summer to last, totaling 271 million people over the next two months.

Businesses that benefit from traveler spending, like attractions and hotels, are preparing for more guests this year. Legoland Discovery Center in Grapevine sees 1,500 to 2,000 guests daily during the summer season. A new hotel, Le Méridien Fort Worth Downtown, is also expecting a late June or July opening and is already seeing high demand for accommodations around major sports events.

This month, the Dallas Mavericks will play in the NBA championship, and the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 soccer games will be at AT&T Stadium. The MLB All-Star Game and associated events will be in Dallas from July 12-16, and No. 1 WNBA draft pick Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever will play against the Dallas Wings in Arlington on July 17.

Despite the increase in travelers, airlines and airports are also facing challenges. Deloitte's survey found that 43% of air travelers are willing to pay more for more comfortable flight experiences, up from last year.

American Airlines is flying more seats than ever this summer and predicts more than 72 million passengers between May 17 and Sept. 3. DFW Airport predicts its top five busiest days to travel this summer are July 8, July 25, July 29, Aug. 1, and July 7. Southwest Airlines projects almost 57 million travelers to fly between May 24 and Sept. 2, with July 7 as the peak travel day with more than 640,000 passengers.

Analysts at Melius Research released guidance this week stating that competitors to North Texas airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, are performing better than American and Southwest. American reduced its sales outlook for the second quarter, and Southwest recently added itself to Google Flights.

Boeing delivery delays have also affected American and Southwest, with the former reducing three long-haul routes from DFW Airport this year and the latter lowering its expectations for aircraft deliveries. One workgroup without a contract with American, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, along with United Airlines, are also without collective bargaining deals. The flight attendants' union has recently threatened to strike.

Regardless, airlines are preparing for a busy summer and hoping to avoid delays and disruptions. "We've seen the industry demonstrate that they're able to absorb and manage these kinds of volumes, particularly over the past couple of years," said Matt Soderberg, U.S. airline practice leader at Deloitte. "I don't see any reason why they wouldn't be able to handle this kind of summer."

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