You already know what happens in the lead up to the holiday season as a personal traveler. With demand sky-high, flight ticket prices go up. The longer you wait, the more you pay in the end.
To cater to the high number of passengers during the holidays, certain aviation companies, who are responsible for ensuring that carriers have an adequate number of planes in the air, are extremely busy in the months leading up to the holiday season. Then, as the holiday season settles in, the demand on the aviation labor force will shift. The same companies that were in high demand for touch labor contractors will slow down as every carrier maximizes the flight time for all their planes to match the holiday traveler demand. During the peak holiday season, both airlines and airports hire contract workers to keep up with the demand for customer service reps to flight attendants
Finally, depending on traffic projections, a few airlines may also lease aircraft for the holiday season. Fly Dubai, for instance, is renting four Boeing 737-800 jets to add capacity to their fleet for the 2019 holiday season.
So, What Happens at the End of the Holiday Season?
Well, it’s often the opposite of the events preceding the holiday season. The following are a few things to expect;
- Traffic numbers drop
Once the holiday season ends, the number of people flying reduces naturally. According to data from the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, air traffic numbers in the US can fall by as much as 10 million people between December and January.
Last holiday, for example, 82.9 million people flew in December, compared to 73.7 million in January. In the previous year, 79.9 million flew in December, while 71.7 million flew in January. Februaries tend to be even worse. Last holiday, 69.8 million people flew in February, while in 2017, only 65.8 million flew in February.
- Ticket prices fall
The period right after the holidays can still be a bit expensive for travelers. But, once the festivities are over, ticket prices tend to drop – in line with the reducing number of passengers. As demand falls, so do prices.
The margin of the drop varies from one year to the next, but overall January is the cheapest time to travel. A recent study by Flight Scanner (a flight finding tool for travelers) shows that the average price of a flight ticket in January is $237, while in December, it's $372, a difference of 36%. Februaries are also relatively cheap at $272 per ticket, on average.
- Temp vs permanent hires?
Once the holiday season ends, there will be a shift back towards the permanent hire positions. That’s because most airlines hiring seasonal customer service workers often offer three-to-six-month contracts, running from around September. Air France, for example, recently hired tens of seasonal passenger agents on 6-month contracts. In most cases, the contracts expire in January and February.
And, as mentioned earlier in this article, all of the planes that spend a majority of November and December in the air will be grounded as some point after the first of the year for scheduled maintenance. Therefore, positions related to maintenance, repair and overhaul of airplanes will ramp up and this usually means a higher demand on touch labor contract work such as; mechanics, avionics, sheetmetal, painters, interiors etc.
With temporary workers leaving, aviation players are then forced to assess their options, review plans for the year ahead, and make longer-term plans. This usually means a few permanent hires (or fires) depending on forecasts.
- Leases returned; fleet management resumes
Not all airlines lease aircraft during the holidays. Some of the big companies tend to have a large fleet of aircraft instead. During the high season, all the units are brought out. But, once demand flattens out, the companies use different approaches to manage their fleet.
As Stephen Holloway writes in his Book, Straight and Level; Practical Airline Economics, one option for airlines is to move excess aircraft into scheduled maintenance. Berlin Air is one such airline that uses this tactic. Another option is moving aircraft to sun destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean. West Jet Airlines uses this strategy.
The weeks following the December holidays are just as action-packed as those leading up to the festive season. The only difference is that airlines are usually hard at work, trying to find ways to make maximum profits from dwindling traffic numbers.