Seems like everyone is flying this summer. These airport tips can help things go smoothly
Summer travel is in full swing as Americans are taking the trips they put off since the pandemic broke out in 2020.
Tourism has rebounded strongly nationwide and in Arizona in recent months, evidenced by Phoenix airport traffic and TSA screenings coming close to pre-pandemic levels.
That high demand can reveal just how fragile the air travel system is, with potentially long lines to get through security and the chance of flight cancellations. Just one significant delay or cancellation can trigger problems nationwide.
Here's what travelers can expect during the rest of the hectic summer travel season, including tips on how to anticipate and cope with potential snags.
Here's how much air travel has come roaring back
Nationwide, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2 million people a day on 20 of the first 22 days of June, according to the agency’s website. It topped out at 2.4 million passengers on June 17.
TSA has screened more passengers in June 2022 than every day in June 2021, though screening isn’t quite back to pre-pandemic levels. In the first half of June 2019, the agency’s screenings peaked at 2.7 million passengers nationwide on June 10.
Flightaware.com recorded 15,296 delayed flights and 2,964 canceled flights worldwide on Wednesday, including 135 delays and 16 cancellations at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Flights are up 4% over the last week.
American and Southwest airlines comprised most of the delays and cancellations in Phoenix. Collectively, the two airlines represent 77% of the airport's total capacity, airport spokesman Greg Roybal said.
In June, travelers at Sky Harbor saw security wait times that ranged from five to 20 minutes on most days. Those times could go up as traveler volumes increase with the Fourth of July travel period approaching.
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'Travelers are prioritizing taking vacations'
A recent survey from Destination Analysts found just under 83% of Americans are ready to travel or already are traveling, while 88% surveyed said they plan at least one leisure trip in the next 12 months.
“Between our first-class resorts, cooler mountain climates and water-focused recreation opportunities, Arizona’s diverse geography offers Arizonans and visitors incredible summer travel options,” said Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism.
“Strong demand for flights and hotel rooms shows travelers are prioritizing taking vacations now and will hopefully continue through the summer season.”
While Sky Harbor doesn't yet have passenger counts that show how busy it's been in recent weeks, its counts for the first four months of 2022 offer a hint of how much busier it is.
From January through April, Sky Harbor had 14.4 million passengers, a 50% increase from the first four months of 2021.
But the airport isn’t yet seeing a return to pre-pandemic passenger counts, Roybal said. Sky Harbor's traffic from January through April 2019 was 15.7 million passengers.
How heat and summer storms can disrupt flights
From October 2021 to March 2022, the most recent rolling six-month data available, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that weather delayed 1,613 flights at Sky Harbor – 935 more flights than the same period a year earlier.
Sky Harbor staff stated in social media posts that fliers should check their flight status on the airport’s website if they’re scheduled to fly when severe weather is predicted, a reminder timed with the start of Arizona’s monsoon.
“While the airlines try their best to keep flights on-time during adverse weather that can come during the monsoon, it can impact flights,” Sky Harbor spokeswoman Tamra Ingersoll said in an email. “We recommend that you check your flight status prior to coming out to the airport if there are chances of dust or rainstorms.”
Extreme heat can also cause flight delays. High temperatures intersecting with high altitudes can influence air density and the way an airplane's wings generate the lift it needs to fly, according to Tim Donohue, founder of the startup Aerology, which forecasts air travel disruptions.
Long-distance flights, as well as fully booked flights where passenger and baggage weights can become an issue, tend to be most vulnerable to high temperatures, Donohue said.
High heat sparked American Airlines to issue a travel alert for flights to and from Phoenix on June 16 and 17. The airline waived change fees for travel June 18-20, if passengers didn’t change their destination or origin city.
Flyers should prepare for the chance of severe weather not only in Phoenix, but also in their destination or en route. For instance, the Atlantic hurricane season that runs from June to November can create delays and cancellations affecting East Coast and Southwestern cities.
Sky Harbor Airport summer travel tips
As Arizonans brave the summer travel rush, these strategies can help ease the stress.
Plan ahead on parking. Flyers can book their Sky Harbor parking online up to six months in advance and may save up to 50% by booking ahead of time.
Set an appointment to get through security. A new service called PHX Reserve allows people to avoid long security waits by making appointments to go to the front of the line.
Give yourself plenty of time. Allow ample time to get to the airport, park and go through security. Even if wait times suggest you can get through the line in five minutes, don't get complacent. Your drive may involve heavy traffic, or there may be a wait to check your bag.
Plan for meals. If you plan to eat at the airport, know where you want to go and when they're open. Because of staffing issues, 15 of Sky Harbor's restaurants are listed as temporarily closed and others are operating on reduced hours. To find out which airport restaurants are open, visit skyharbor.com/ShopsFoodServices/Dining.
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