You may want to reconsider your summer plans (for these reasons)

(CNN) — This travel season is like no other. And anyone looking for a summer adventure is likely to find themselves trapped in a chaotic web of expensive canceled rental cars or fully booked flights and hotels. The prospect of getting from point A to point B without a costly headache can seem almost impossible.

Consider this: On Wednesday, 639 flights into, to or from the United States were canceled and 5,837 were delayed, according to flight tracking data from FlightAware.

Only Delta Air Lines cut about 100 daily flights in July to “minimize disruptions” and has issued a waiver for 4th of July travelers as it prepares for passenger volumes “not seen since before the pandemic.”

Renting a car, if you can find one, will probably cost you more than in years past. And hotel prices are also going up across the country. So much for a few days of relaxation.

What costs are Americans facing to travel this summer? 2:38

What’s going on?

Your travel problems this summer are (probably) not your fault. In the sky, airlines have significantly fewer employees, especially pilots, than they did before the pandemic. And on the roads, a shortage of available vehicles has pushed rental car prices up by double digits.

Add record inflation with notable demand for leisure travel and you have a perfect recipe for trouble. But, much of this turbulence can be traced back to covid-19.

It starts with the demand. Airlines and hotels are forecasting record travel this summer as Americans who delayed travel during the pandemic vacation again.

Demand meets staff shortage. Although airlines received $54 billion in federal assistance during the height of Covid-19 to avoid involuntary layoffs, they have fewer employees after offering buyouts and early retirement packages to cut staff and save money.

Staff shortage creates problems. As a result, operations can quickly fall apart when there is bad weatherwhen air traffic control centers are short-staffed or when staff are sick.

Then inflation. The Consumer Price Index, the government’s main measure of inflation, estimates that overall rates increased 37.8% in May compared to a year ago and 21.7% compared to May 2019, before the pandemic.

Remember, in the midst of the outbreak, the Federal Reserve implemented emergency measures to prevent financial markets from crashing. The central bank cut interest rates to near zero and began pumping tens of billions of dollars each month into the markets by buying corporate debt.

By doing so, the bank probably avoided a financial collapse. But maintaining those easy-money policies has also fueled inflation, which is why your plane ticket costs so much more than it used to.

Rental cars also have a problem since the pandemic. During the height of the pandemic, the industry sold more than half a million cars, about a third of their fleets combined, just to generate the cash they needed to survive the crisis. After a year of huge losses, car rental companies have struggled to rebuild their fleets to meet demand, leading to exorbitant prices even before they fill up.

Hotels, too. You won’t feel much relief either when you get to your destination. Remember the pent-up travel demand problem? That collides with a limited number of places to stay and results in some surprising prices.

The average hotel room rate is 23% higher than last year, according to AAA.

What is the Biden administration doing?

Earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged airline executives in a private conversation to review their flight schedules and take other steps to soften the impact of flight cancellations this summer, a report said. source familiar with the call to CNN’s Gregory Wallace.

The source said Buttigieg asked the CEOs to discuss plans to prevent and respond to outages over the Fourth of July holiday weekend and beyond.

What do the airlines say?

US airlines want you to know that they are trying. Airlines for America, the group that represents the major US airlines, told CNN in a statement Thursday that they are doing “everything they can to help ensure smooth travel this weekend.”

“U.S. airlines are facing a variety of challenges, including weather and staffing at the airline and federal government levels, and are doing everything they can to help ensure smooth travel this weekend and throughout the year. As always, we are working closely and collaboratively with the federal government to address challenges, including inclement weather, so schedule adjustments can be made and carriers can reach travelers as soon as possible,” the statement said.

The group’s member airlines take different approaches to reduce summer flight disruptions, including reducing the number of flights and allowing passengers to rebook free of charge for non-peak periods.

Still, critics say airlines should have planned many of these trips before the summer season.

How long will this last?

Read this article by aviation journalist John Walton.

He writes: In almost every case, the problem is that too many people with experience have been laid off during the pandemic – layoff or voluntary departure – and that airlines, airports and other key parts of the aviation system have not hired and trained enough people to replace them.

This training point is important. As airlines and airports know all too well, there is a whole process to getting the kind of security pass that allows you to work on a plane or at an airport gate.

Put another way, traveling will be difficult for a while.

How can you prepare?

If you have plans to travel this summer, you are not doomed. CNN’s travel team has put together practical tips to help you get where you’re going when it comes to flying.

The sooner the better. Taking a flight that leaves early in the day helps avoid the cascading effect of delays and cancellations. Bad weather is also more likely to affect subsequent flights.

Leave free time for unmissable events. Do not travel on the day of an important event such as a wedding. Plan to arrive at least a day early.

Request a hotel voucher if your flight is cancelled. If you can’t get on a flight the same day, it’s worth asking for meal or hotel vouchers. In many cases, such as weather events, airlines are not required to provide them, but it’s worth asking.

The most important thing is to be considerate. Don’t take your frustration out on customer service employees. They are not making the trading decisions.

CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Chuck Johnston and Ramishah Maruf contributed to this report.

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