"Fliers Face a Brutal Summer," declared the scary headline in Tuesday's 'Middle Seat' column in The Wall Street Journal (online subscription required). Scott McCartney's Journal report was one of several recent articles that, when given the mash-up treatment, collectively provide a glimpse into what we weary travelers can expect during the upcoming hot spell. Fortunately, there is some good news.
Here are some probable travel trends for summer 2007:
> Frequent fliers will get hot under the collar. Travel is booming again, but airline staffing is lean, McCartney reports. Meanwhile, airlines have dramatically cut costs on back-up resources, giving them less capacity to recover from weather or other delays. Labor battles at the carriers are looming, and cancellations and delays are up this year, too. And, oh yes, flights are running fuller this year, leaving fewer empty seats available for rebooking stranded passengers. McCartney quotes John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, who said: "It's going to be a brutal summer of delays."
> Using frequent flier miles will be tougher than ever. Have you actually tried cashing in your miles lately for a free round-trip airline ticket? It ain't easy, people. Seems like free seats are rarely available and are particularly scarce for summer trips. And if you do find availability, the amount of miles required to book the itinerary is often twice what it used to be--say, 50,000 miles for a coach seat instead of 25,000 miles.
> Europe will remain crazy expensive for American travelers. As of yesterday, the British pound cost $2 in U.S. currency--a 26-year high. The euro rose to $1.3614, just shy of its all-time record. Analysts predict these trends will continue for the foreseeable future.
> But 'cheap chic' hotels are booming. Finally, the good news: More hotel chains are coming online that are affordable and yet offer amenities business travelers need, according to USA Today. Example: rooms in the new Hyatt Place chain go for about $125-$160 a night; are fairly large (about 510 sq. ft.); and offer 42-inch high-def, flat panel TVs, plus free in-room Wi-Fi. And there's a new wave of budget business hotels popping up in Europe, reports The New York Times.
What does all this mean? A few things: Book your travel as far in advance as possible. Try to travel only with carry-on luggage, so you can quickly switch to another flight if needed. And don't take out your hostility on airline personnel--even if they do it to you first.