American Airlines recently announced it would trim about 31,000 flights from its November schedule.
But before you go rushing to your AAdvantage account to check your Thanksgiving travel plans, or calling your grandmother to let her know you won't make it over the river to her house this year, take a deep breath.
Yes, 31,000 seems like a big number. Yes, the airline industry is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, and 2022 has been a little rocky for air travel. But, aviation experts and professional travel advisers agree: These changes are happening with plenty of time to spare. Airlines will almost certainly be able to rebook you, and you'll have some flexibility to adapt your plans if you're not happy with the alternatives you're provided.
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Airline schedule trims by the numbers
According to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics company, American Airlines cut 30,949 flights that had been scheduled in November.
"These adjustments are in line with our approach to our network and schedule planning throughout the year. Preliminary schedules are published 331 days in advance and then adjustments are made closer in based on the schedule we intend to operate," American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller said in a statement. "We are now loading schedule adjustments approximately 100 days in advance, which is in line with how we adjusted our schedule in 2019 prior to the pandemic. American is proud to offer customers the largest network of any U.S. airline this fall, with, on average, nearly 5,400 daily departures."
In financial filings for the second quarter, American projected a 7.5%-9.5% reduction in capacity overall for 2022 compared with 2019. Miller said the November cuts were in line with that projection.
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Delta Air Lines also confirmed it is trimming about 4,500 flights from its November schedule, and in the spring, United Airlines announced it would cut about 15,000 flights in November, a 10% schedule reduction for the month according to Cirium data.
"Airlines frequently perform surgery on their schedules. Sometimes it's minor surgery and more rarely, major surgery. A 17% cut like this qualifies as major surgery, but for passengers it might mean that instead of say, 15 flights a day between Dallas and Chicago, there might be 9 flights but with more bums in the seats," said Mike Arnot, a Cirium spokesperson.
What airline schedule changes mean for travelers
When an airline changes its schedule far in advance, passengers can usually be rebooked on similar flights without too much trouble.
"The airline gives you other flights at no additional fee," said Nadia Henry, who goes by Sparkle professionally and founded the travel agency Travel with Sparkle. "Usually the airline emails myself or the client about the schedule change, and then it’s up to you to go in and look and see if you accept the changes."
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In most cases, the airline will be able to rebook passengers on other flights to and from the same airports on the same days at no additional charge. But if the new schedule doesn't work for you, or you're not happy with the alternatives you're presented, you may have the flexibility to choose other options for yourself or get a refund and book new travel altogether.
"It's always important to look at what that rebooking is," said Amina Dearmon, founder and owner of Perspectives Travel, an affiliate of SmartFlyer. "It’s not just you who has been affected; it’s everyone on that flight who has been affected," and the longer you wait to explore your alternative options, the more limited they may be.
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What's causing airlines to change their schedules?
These kinds of schedule changes were normal even before the pandemic, but Dearmon and Sparkle said they seem to be happening at a grander scale these days.
"The adjustments up until this point in 2022 were the same as in all of 2021," Dearmon said. "It's definitely something that's increasing as we keep dealing with labor shortages."
Travel demand sprang back to pre-pandemic levels quickly this year, and airlines, which downsized during the pandemic through early retirements and buyouts, are struggling to meet that demand with smaller staff rosters.
"Over the last few years with COVID, the airlines (have been) constantly reevaluating the schedules and flights and where they’re able to trim," Dearmon said. "The most important thing for travelers to know and be aware of is these changes do happen and will happen."
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Airlines are still experiencing setbacks as they shift to meet demand.
"It will continue on through the end of the year," Dearmon said. "The main thing I've been trying to reiterate to clients is that patience is important right now."
"Have some compassion because of what’s going on and understand why a lot of the airlines are being affected," she said. "Sometimes it’s just totally out of their control."
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Sparkle added that it's more important now than ever to give airlines updated contact information, in case of schedule changes or interruptions. And, she and Dearmon said that with airlines experiencing reliability concerns, it's also smart to protect your trip with travel insurance.
On top of that, most of the normal travel advice still applies, too.
"Anything you can do to make it a smoother travel experience, whether it’s carrying-on, getting to the airport earlier than you would," leaving from a bigger airport with more flight options or knowing what your alternatives are if something goes wrong will help make flying less stressful, Dearmon said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airlines trim 50,000+ flights in November. It's going to be OK.