High gas prices and canceled flights create holiday headaches for Americans

After holding off for part of the pandemic, Americans are traveling in big numbers this summer, but it’s turning out to be much more difficult than many expected, whether you’re flying or driving. We asked people to share their experiences and problems they're facing every day, and Stephanie Sy breaks down what's behind the state of air travel.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, after staying put for part of the pandemic, Americans are back to traveling in big numbers this summer, but it's turning out to be much harder than expected, whether you're flying or driving.

    Despite high gas prices, nearly 48 million drivers hit the highways this weekend. We asked some of you to share what you're experiencing on the road.

  • Naomi Ogutu, New Jersey:

    My name is Naomi Ogutu. I live in New Jersey, but I drive in New York City.

    I drive for app companies. At moment, I drive for Lyft. With the gas prices, the person that is suffering is the driver. Before the gas prices went up, I would cruise around Manhattan from one end of Manhattan to the other. But now, because of the gas prices, now I have to stop at one location, park my car, and wait.

    Even with all these strategies of saving money, I'm taking home almost half what I used to take before.

  • Nina Wolf, Pennsylvania:

    I go by Wolf. I'm 59. I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I'm a canine handler for the Mountaineer Area Rescue Group out of Morgantown.

    There we go. The big one is Fergus, and little one, that's Henry. We have to train the dogs a lot. And we used to be two to three times a week, but nobody can afford all those trainings because of the gas prices.

    There have been times and there will be again times when certain team members just don't have the money in the bank to fill the tank and cannot come to a call-out, which means we can't help, can't help you. If you're out there and lost, we can't come and fix it for you.

  • Fred Anson, California:

    My name is Fred Anson, And I live in Lake Forest, California.

    If I had to go back to my old commute right now, I would be taking about a $300-to-$400-a-month cut in pay just in filling up my own car. Here in California, our state government feels that they have evidence that there's been price gouging going on. And just driving to the pump and filling up my car once a week, I don't doubt that there's some legitimacy to that.

  • Joy Robinson, Tennessee:

    My name is Joy Robinson. I am in Knoxville, Tennessee, and we say we're at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

    We actually were out of town when the gas surged in February. And we had driven on vacation. And we were driving back and thinking, how high is it going to be when we get back to town? We went down paying a certain amount and came back and it seemed like gas had jumped $1.20 over a week.

  • April Appah, Oregon:

    My name is April Appah. And I live in Corvallis, Oregon. We have four children. Everybody's in that driving age. The kids and I had planned on just doing a road trip out to Tennessee. And as we got closer to it and the gas prices kept rising, it just became one of those things where it's like, I don't know that this is going to work.

  • Michelle Baldwin, Oklahoma:

    My name is Michelle Baldwin. I live in Cherokee, Oklahoma, which is a pretty rural area. The closest town to me is 20 miles away.

    There's just not really any way for us to not drive in order to do the things that we need to do. Overall, I'd say we probably spend close to $60 to $100 a week more on gas now than we did this time last summer. It hurts.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's turn now to the troubled state of air travel.

    Millions of people have been flying in the U.S. this weekend, or at least trying to. There were more than 1,400 cancellations and over 14,000 delays.

    Stephanie Sy takes a closer look at all of this.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    It's hard to remember now, but there were plenty of flight delays and cancellations before the pandemic. Still, things have gotten worse this year for air travelers, particularly around holidays and heavy travel periods. More than 800,000 flights have been delayed in the U.S. this year, averaging one out of every five flights a day. And more than 115,000 flights have been canceled this year.

    We look at what is happening and what people need to know with Kyle Potter, the editor in chief of Thrifty Traveler.

    Kyle, thanks for joining the "NewsHour."

    I guess the first question is, did airlines do what they needed to do to meet the surge in demand this holiday weekend?

  • Kyle Potter, Thrifty Traveler:

    I don't know that it's about what they needed to do. It's about just how far they went to survive the worst of the pandemic.

    They had to shrink into survival mode when travel fell off a cliff in early 2020. And that was really good for a while because they were hemorrhaging tens of millions of dollars a day. But fast-forward to travel demand bouncing back, and it's clear that they cut a little bit too much.

    So they have stretched themselves far too thin right now. And probably most importantly, they're selling flights as if it's 2019. But they are not up to staff as if it's 2019 yet. It's going to take some time. And that's what we're seeing here, is basically growing pains.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Does that mean that they are blameless in this dysfunction that we're seeing around the country?

  • Kyle Potter:

    Not at all.

    Ultimately, it's up to the airlines to sell flights that they can operate rely audibly and to be able to recover when something like a storm disrupts part of the country or air traffic control issues crop up, as they always do in good times and bad.

    And that's the difference here, is that airlines are much smaller than they used to be. And they're just trying to do too much with too little. So I would say just the opposite. Airlines are ultimately to blame for what we're seeing today.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    OK, I know that one of the specific issues that airlines are dealing with is just a pilot shortage.

    We know that, at Delta Air Lines, there are discontented pilots that protested. A few days ago, we know that American Airlines just announced that they're planning a raise for pilots by 2024. But is that specifically the staffing issue we're talking about, that there just aren't enough pilots?

  • Kyle Potter:

    The airlines are getting it from both sides, because, even before the pandemic, there was an overarching pilot shortage, that there just weren't enough pilots in the pipeline to get onto planes to fuel their growth plans.

    And then airlines made it worse for themselves during the pandemic, during the worst of it, because airlines like Delta and every other airline winnowed their ranks by tens of thousands of employees, pilots included, through early retirement incentives and buyout packages.

    And so now hiring pilots takes a lot of time. I mean, this is months and months of training. So it's going to take a long time before these airlines are able to get back up to 100 percent to have as many pilots as they need.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And when it comes to the pilots who are still flying, a representative with the Allied Pilots Association told another TV network this week that the FAA needs to come in and look at how airlines are building their schedules, at an inhumane level, is what the representative said, an inhumane level, and that is letting down passengers.

    So I guess my question is, is the federal government doing what it can to hold airlines accountable and make sure passengers and pilots are safe?

  • Kyle Potter:

    There's certainly room for improvement.

    I mean, someone needs to step in and make sure that airlines are living up to the promises that they're making to consumers, because, when we see airlines fail as often as we have, not just over this holiday travel weekend, not just in 2022, but again and again and again over the course of the last year and change, it's clear that there are some systemic problems.

    And until airlines are held accountable for these failures, I'm concerned that this is just going to continue happening.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And continuing on that thread of accountability, Senator Bernie Sanders sent a letter to the transportation secretary this week saying that airlines should face steep fines for canceling flights if they have booked passengers on flights they know they can't staff, because the report came out earlier this week saying that is what they're doing.

    Sanders also reminds us that taxpayers bailed out this industry with more than $50 billion during the pandemic. Would penalizing airlines be part of the solution here?

  • Kyle Potter:

    You know, I'm not going to pretend like I have all the answers. Certainly, lawmakers in D.C. and parts of the Biden administration know best what to do.

    I do hope that someone somewhere steps up and holds these airlines accountable in some way. We at Thrifty Traveler have been calling for many, many months now to force airlines to guarantee some kind of compensation for delays and cancellations.

    What the dollar amount is, in what situations that would apply, I don't know what's best in this case. But I do think that airlines needs some skin in the game and to face some real penalties and give consumers something back when their plans get shot.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    I guess drive if you can.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Kyle Potter, the editor in chief of Thrifty Traveler, thank you for joining the "NewsHour."

  • Kyle Potter:

    Thanks for having me.

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