With pandemic restrictions in the rearview and the summer of 2022 in full swing, U.S. airlines are beginning to feel the strain. Labor shortages and Americans' post-pandemic travel itch have formed a toxic combination, resulting in major airlines delaying or outright cancelling flights. This EdgeTheory narrative intelligence brief explores how U.S. media is covering the surge in air travel, who's pushing the narratives, and how it's being shaped.
The word "air travel" saw a massive uptick in use among media outlets leading up to Memorial Day, the first big travel day of summer. Overall, major U.S. media outlets have amplified this narrative around 300 times in the past two weeks.
Among the top keywords associated with air travel was "gas prices." Many media outlets blame rising gas prices for the steep increase in air travel. Some Americans are opting to fly rather than face the steadily rising price at the pump. But those traveling by plane are not much better off according to some U.S. media outlets: a top narrative keyword "sticker shock" (amplified by 67 sources) indicates that Americans are facing higher air fares in addition to the gas prices they would face in traveling by car.
"Pre-pandemic levels" is another telling keyword. Many publications are reporting that consumer spending on flights have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Yet the labor for airlines is not as it was pre-pandemic. The 6th most used keyword in association with the air travel narrative is "flight attendant" (144 mentions). U.S. media has largely depicted flight attendants and flight crews in general as being fatigued, overworked, and, in some cases, willing to unionize to mitigate the increasing demand for their services.
All of this portends for an expensive summer for air travelers riddled with delays and cancellations. "Higher prices" and "flight cancellations" as top trends in this narrative prove that while many Americans are opting to fly rather than pay at the pump, it might prove just as expensive and even more of a hassle to go with an airline.
This narrative will no doubt evolve as the summer progresses and airlines struggle to accommodate the increase in flight demand, so click this brief (which automatically updates) to stay updated on the air travel narrative: