SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — With many pandemic restrictions being lifted across the country, industry experts are surprised to see summer travel demand bouncing back much quicker and stronger than expected.
This has left airlines racing to catch up. In fact, hundreds of flights have been canceled nationwide due to a number of factors that include staffing.
The San Diego International Airport reported 67,000 passengers flew in and out Monday, the largest number since the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020.
“We’re not quite back to the normal traffic we would have seen pre-covid, but we are seeing an increase in passengers through the terminal," said airport spokesperson Sabrina LoPicollo.
While travel is down 33% from 2019, it is up 288% from 2020.
Airlines find themselves struggling to meet that demand. More than 400 flights have been canceled nationwide in recent weeks, including two in San Diego Tuesday by American Airlines. American is warning to expect more disruptions until at least the middle of July.
University of San Diego economics professor Alan Gin says much of the trouble meeting demand stems from decisions made during the pandemic after the federal government bailed out the airline industry.
“They could not furlough workers. But what they did is they encouraged a lot of workers to quit or retire early. so as a result of that, their workforce is a lot smaller than it was before the pandemic," Gin said.
While airlines are now bringing many workers back, the nature of air travel makes that a slower process than in other industries. That's most evident amongst pilots, who must go through several days of retraining upon returning to work, including time in flight simulators. According to a source, all of the American Airlines flight simulators are at their hub in Dallas, and recent storms have disrupted the company's ability to bring as man pilots in and out for training as they would have liked.
Economists worry that if airlines do not accelerate their capacity quickly, it could pose a significant drag on the rebound from the pandemic.
"We’re a travel destination. We’re dependent on people coming for, for leisure purposes, for business purposes, too," Gin said. "If the airlines are not flying in, or if the flights are being reduced, that’s going to reduce the number of people coming in here to San Diego.”