It’s been another tough year for aviation, as the world returned to flying after the Covid-19 pandemic, only for the industry to be beset by chaos and cancellations. There were silver linings, however, as the industry slowly recovered and progress was made in terms of more environmentally sustainable flying. Here are the highs and lows of what’s been a bumpy ride.
1. Covid restrictions eased and we (mostly) took off our masks
We began the year with masks firmly on and Covid passes at the ready. The thaw began in March and April, with Europe leading the way on relaxing restrictions. Asia has been the slowest to reopen to tourism, but now even Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan are opening their doors. China, the last holdout, made a shock exit from its Zero Covid strategy this month, but experts warn the move may be too drastic.
2. We all started flying again – and that was a problem
Delays, cancellations, long lines, strikes, fewer flights, higher fares. The summer of travel chaos matured into the winter of travel chaos as post-pandemic staffing shortages, infrastructure issues and in some quarters worker disputes, continued to cripple the industry. Flights and seats in the US and elsewhere are still not back to pre-pandemic levels, meaning high demand is still pushing up prices.
3. One of the world’s busiest airports asked airlines to stop selling tickets
Struggling to cope with the surge in demand, in July London Heathrow capped passenger traffic to 100,000 departures per day. During that month’s mayhem dubbed “airmageddon,” Delta Air Lines dealt with the baggage handling crisis by flying a plane packed with 1,000 lost bags and zero passengers from Heathrow to its Detroit hub.
4. Some airlines tried to cut corners
The cracks began to show. The CEO of European low-cost carrier Wizz Air attracted criticism for telling staff to take less time off for fatigue. And in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration rejected regional airline Republic Airways’ controversial proposal to reduce the hours it takes to become a co-pilot.
5. Passenger dissatisfaction shot up
By August, airline passenger complains in the US were up 320% compared with pre-pandemic figures. And by November, US airlines had paid out more than $600 billion in refunds to travelers for canceled or changed flights since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Travelers with disabilities have been particularly hard hit by the gaps in service, with treatment often reaching “unacceptable” levels.
6. Flight attendants had enough of the bad behavior
All the chaos and drama amounted to rising tensions in the sky and an increase in unruly passenger incidents. Flight attendants were on the front line of the “unsustainable and shambolic” situation.
7. Asia-Pacific lost its title as the world’s biggest travel market
Before Covid changed the travel landscape, Asian Pacific air traffic accounted for more than a third of all global passenger journey by October 2022 aviation in the region remained down by 45%. In May, CNN reported how airline ticket scalpers had taken over the heavily restricted Chinese market.
8. Hong Kong flew dogs in private jets and gave away airline tickets for free
In the locked-down world of January 2022, desperate pet owners in Hong Kong were resorting to chartering private planes for their dogs and cats when relocating out of the city. Having had some of the toughest travel restrictions in the world for more than two years, in October 2022, the newly relaxed Hong Kong confirmed plans to give away half a million airline tickets in a bid to boost tourism.
9. The invasion of Ukraine closed off airspace
The Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in the closing of airspace over both countries and sanctions of Russian airlines (as well as retaliatory sanctions by Russia). The conflict also led to a spike in jet fuel prices in March. The world’s largest commercial plane, the Antonov AN-225, was destroyed by Russian forces at its Ukraine base early in the war, but there are now plans to rebuild it.
10. It was another year of extreme weather
Experts believe that the climate crisis could mean the most severe and sudden type of turbulence, “clear-air turbulence,” will increase in coming decades. Recent serious turbulence incidents include dozens of people being injured on a Hawaiian Airlines flight on December and 18 and five people injured on a United Airlines flight the following day.
11. And heat waves have repercussions for air travel too
There were severe heat waves in Europe, the US and in Asia this summer and in one incident flights were suspended at a London airport after a runway was damaged by high temperatures. Extreme heat can also make it harder for planes to take off, particularly at airports at higher altitudes. Here’s why.
12. The Airbus A380 made a comeback
The Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, is no longer in production but the superjumbo still made a comeback of sorts after being grounded during the height of the pandemic. Tim Clark, boss of Emirates – the A380’s biggest customer – told CNN he wants Airbus to build another plane on the same mammoth scale. But will manufacturers or airlines bite?
13. The last ever Boeing 747 rolled off the production line
More than 50 years after the launch of the superjumbo known as the “queen of the skies,” the last ever Boeing 747 rolled off the production line in December 2023, ahead of being delivered to American cargo airline Atlas Air early next year. Boeing’s new star airplane is the upcoming Boeing 777X, described as “the world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet.”
14. There were more ultra-long-haul record-breakers
In March, Air New Zealand launched the first ever direct flights (clocking in at 17 hours) between Auckland and New York City. Soon after, Qantas launched a direct flight of a similar length between Melbourne and Dallas. And in May, Qantas ordered 12 A350-1000s which it hopes to use on its potentially record-breaking 20-hour Project Sunrise flights, which could connect Australia with New York and London.
15. Airlines planned ambitious transatlantic routes
Newcomer FlyAtlantic is joining Norse Atlantic Airways in its mission to bring back budget transatlantic flights, despite it being a notoriously difficult market in which to turn a profit. And JetBlue has announced that it will expand its transatlantic low-fare offering in 2023, by introducing flights from New York and Boston to Paris, on top of its existing London service.
16. The much-heralded supersonic comeback rumbled on
The race to be the successor to Concorde continued. In July, Bombardier’s in-development Global 8000, the world’s fastest passenger jet, went supersonic in tests. And in August, American Airlines agreed to purchase a fleet of 20 Mach 1.7 jets from Boom Supersonic – but the ambitious craft has yet to complete a test flight. And NASA continues work on its “quiet” supersonic plane, the X-59.
17. A few more sustainability milestones were reached
In March, an Airbus A380 completed a flight powered by cooking oil and waste fats. This green alternative, known as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), is the big hope for airlines hoping to curb carbon emissions, but it’s still not widely used. Airbus is also now working on a hydrogen-powered fuel cell engine – which, again, will be tested on the mighty A380.
18. Experimental new aircraft were developed
Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered plane capable of staying in the air for months at a time, got a little closer to production after being bought by a US-Spanish start-up. A Spanish airline, Air Nostrum, also took a punt on less environmentally damaging aviation models by ordering a fleet of 10 hybrid airships. And in September, Alice, the first all-electric passenger airplane, made its debut flight in Washington.
19. Some major airports got a makeover
In the US, work progressed on the $8.5 billion revamp of Chicago O’Hare, one of the world’s busiest airports, and the much-maligned New York LaGuardia opened a fancy new $4 billion Delta Airlines terminal. In Singapore, new details were revealed for Changi Airport’s Terminal 5. Changi has often been named “the world’s best airport” and now it’s set to almost double in size.
20. There were cabin innovations, some more practical than others
See a double decker airplane seat prototype
21. An inexperienced passenger landed a plane by himself
In April, CNN Travel was the first to try out a controversial new double-decker airplane seat prototype, which then went viral. In June, Air New Zealand announced its Skynest concept: full-length sleeping pods available to economy passengers, and in September, American Airlines revealed new premium suites with privacy doors.
In May, a passenger with no flying experience landed a single-engine Cessna 208 at a Florida airport after the pilot became incapacitated. And in July, a pilot was forced to land his small plane on a busy North Carolina highway after his engine failed three times. Think you could land a plane in an emergency? Here’s what’s involved.
22. Plane-spotting became the internet’s new hobby
In February, a UK plane-spotter named Jerry Dyer became a national hero as more than 200,000 people tuned in to watch bumpy aircraft landings on his YouTube live stream from Heathrow Airport during Storm Eunice. It was also a big year for flight-tracking service FlightRadar 24, which saw record numbers to its website during events such as Queen Elizabeth’s coffin being transported by RAF jet.