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What to Expect at Airports & On Planes This Summer

Sayonara, winter. See ya next year, spring. Summer travel is almost here.

After slowly climbing back to normal, summer 2023 is poised to be the biggest season of travel we've seen in years – maybe ever. Americans are coming out of the woodwork, dead-set on going somewhere fun and maybe even far away this summer.

But what will travel look and feel like? How long will the lines at the airport be? And will airlines test travelers' patience yet again with more delays and cancellations?

Take a look at how we see summer 2023 travel shaping up in the months ahead.

Summer 2023 Could Set Travel Records

Stop me if you've heard this before: Summer 2023 will set a new benchmark for travel, meeting – and heck, maybe even surpassing – pre-pandemic records.

It's the travel trend that just won't quit: From last summer to Thanksgiving and Christmas last year to this recent stretch for spring break, every peak travel period seems to push the numbers higher and higher. With international travel restrictions long gone and even corporate business travelers returning to the skies, 2023 is set to be the first full year of “normal” travel since the start of the pandemic.

And that's a recipe for a busy, busy summer of travel.

Despite higher costs on everything from airfare to gasoline amid murmurs of a recession, Americans have clearly decided to prioritize travel coming out of the pandemic. It's as if we're all collectively saying: “We gave up travel for years and saved that money. We're going somewhere this time, darn it!”

So as the calendar turns to the peak summer travel months of June, July, and August.

What do “record travel numbers” mean for you? For starters, this coming surge in travel will shape almost every aspect of the travel experience this summer…

Longer Lines for Bags & Security

‘Tis the season to get to the airport earlier. To quote the wise words of our travel reporter and flight deal analyst Gunnar Olson: “Dads will be vindicated this summer.”

More travelers will be flocking to airports this summer, but they all get funneled through the same spot: TSA security checkpoints. While the head of the Transportation Security Administration has said the agency is staffing up this year, it's clear there's still a ways to go to keep flyers moving smoothly through security.

So don't be surprised to find scenes like this at your home airport – especially during peak times like Sundays, Mondays, and even weekend mornings.

But it's not just security checkpoints where travelers are likely to see longer lines than usual. Queues to check or drop off luggage have been a major pain point, and that's certain to remain true through the busy summer.

Consider this: While business travel is slowly returning, the majority of Americans packing into airports and planes are everyday vacationers and leisure travelers – and they're all checking bags. Airlines don't have the staffing to keep bags moving through the airport.

So what can you do if you're worried about long lines? Act like a business traveler: Skip the big checked luggage this summer and pack in just a carry-on bag, instead.

Plus, by packing in just a carry-on bag, you can easily check in for your flight online. Then, just pull up your boarding pass on your smartphone and head straight for the security line.

Brace for More Disruptions

If we've learned anything these last few years, it's this: The next airline meltdown is never far away.

Whenever travel demand picks up, airlines struggle to keep up. With travel demand bursting at the seams, it sets the stage for more flight delays and cancellations this summer. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's better you know now.

After downsizing during the worst of the pandemic, airlines across the board have been stretching themselves thin to fly as many passengers as possible … without enough wiggle room to recover when things go wrong. Throw a storm, an IT hiccup, air traffic control woes, or something else unexpected into the mix, and an airline could fall apart.

Here's the good news: With any luck, it'll be better than last summer, when travelers couldn't go more than a week without seeing headlines of mass delays and cancellations. It was a reckoning for the entire industry, forcing airlines to scale back their schedules while also ramping up hiring to get back to (and then surpass) their 2019 employment levels.

A repeat of Southwest's catastrophic meltdown in December seems unlikely … but that doesn't mean it will be smooth flying all summer long. Even the most on-time U.S. airline is having issues.

Yes, Delta is delaying and canceling flights once again as summer draws near. The Atlanta-based airline has been struggling throughout much of March and into April, regularly canceling up to 100 flights or more each day. While you can't call that a meltdown, it's troubling for an airline that would previously go months without a single cancellation.

So what's an anxious traveler to do this summer?

  • Book your flight for as early in the day as you can! Data clearly shows that the longer the day goes on, the more likely flights will be delayed or canceled

  • Monitor FlightAware's daily dashboard of cancellations. If your airline winds up canceling hundreds of flights on Monday, it's a safe bet that problems will spill into Tuesday

  • Use apps like Flighty to get up-to-the-second updates on what's going on with your flight day of

  • Ready to call it quits after a cancellation? Airlines owe you a full refund if they cancel or significantly delay your flight – not just a credit or voucher

Fewer Flights to New York & D.C.

New York, we have a problem. The same goes for you, Washington, D.C.

Citing air traffic control woes at some of the country's busiest airports, federal regulators are encouraging airlines to reduce their flights into the three major New York-area airports and Washington, D.C.-Reagan (DCA) from May 15 through Sept. 15. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is waiving some of the usual requirements for takeoff and landing frequencies at some of these prized airports in the name of reducing congestion and keeping flights running on time.

Airlines are taking the hint. United announced last week it would cut daily flights out of its Newark (EWR) on peak days from 438 departures to 408 while also slashing daily flights between Newark and Washington, D.C., and other routes. American and Delta are planning to make similar reductions to their summer schedules in and out of New York while JetBlue has vowed it'll do the same to make the air travel system “workable this summer.”

That means travelers may not have their usual pick of the litter among once-an-hour departures to some of the country's biggest and busiest cities. But fewer flights don't necessarily mean fewer seats flying in and out of New York or Washington, D.C. – or higher fares as a result.

United said it plans to operate the routes seeing reductions with larger planes, flying 5% more seats than it did in summer 2019 even with fewer daily flights. Other airlines could do the same.

Bottom Line

Summer 2023 is going to be a big one, travelers.

Americans are itching to get back out there, and the world is wide-open for travel for the first summer in more than three years. But with that surging travel demand will come some of the same issues we travelers have been grappling with for years.

Credit for this article goes to Kyle Potter


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