When I look back on 2021 and consider the outlook for this year, my primary focus remains "caution." You'd think that 2022 must almost certainly be an improvement over last year, but the old aphorism comes to mind: "Cheer up," they said; "things could be worse. So I cheered up. And, sure enough, things did get worse." I'm not that pessimistic about 2022 — at least not yet — but I'm also pretty sure 2022 will still be a long way from "normal."
COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. COVID is likely to remain an important part of life for most if not all of 2022 — and maybe years beyond. What seems to be evolving is a worldwide decision to accommodate to COVID rather than to "beat" it. Continuous mild-case risk will be accepted as the norm. That means a world in which a return to near-normal travel activities will be available to fully vaccinated or repeatedly tested travelers. If you're vaccinated and still don't want to risk getting a mild case, stay home. I see this scenario as ongoing throughout 2022.
Staffing. The partially COVID-related problem of extended staff shortages will continue to plague airlines, rail systems, hotels, restaurants, and other important segments of the travel business. That means more peak-period delays and cancellations, slower service, long lines, and all the other stuff you see now. Don't expect a quick fix, but you can expect gradual improvement through the year.
Airlines. Domestically, the most intriguing question remains how Breeze Airline will deploy its new A220s. These planes can fly low-traffic transcontinental and even intercontinental routes at costs that the larger 737s and A320s can't match. Last year's start-up, Avelo, still has to prove it has legs. Otherwise, expect very little new-line innovation.
Barring a major summer COVID slump, expect more low-fare transatlantic flights from new entrants: Norse Atlantic has obtained its first ex-Norwegian 787 and will likely follow Norwegian's pattern, and the new Icelandic line Play will emulate what its predecessor, Wow, tried to do. Industry mavens wonder how either will succeed by emulating prior failures.
Those mavens are equally skeptical of the new Northern Pacific Airways, which plans to promote Anchorage as the Pacific equivalent of Reykjavik and a hub for low-cost flights between Asia and the US/Canada. Also expect one or two low-cost transpacific lines to launch in Asia.
Rail. Although Amtrak gets a pile of money from the infrastructure bill, you won't see any big results in 2022 — rail progress moves more slowly than a long-haul Amtrak train. The year's most important new rail openings will be regional and urban projects delayed from 2020 and 2021: West Side Access in New York, Chinatown subway in San Francisco, E-Line extension in Boston, Washington Metro's extension to Dulles Airport, and Crossrail in London. And don't be surprised if at least one of those doesn't quite make it in 2022, either.
Hotels. Hotels will continue to blame COVID for staff shortages and reduced guest service than in the "good old days" of 2019. They will keep trying to switch as many employees as possible to tip-based tax status so as to avoid paying minimum wage. They will offset those service cuts by raising rates: unless the market tanks, look for rate inflation. And I see little progress and eliminating the "resort fee" scam from rate postings.
Cruises. Last week, the CDC hit cruiselines with its "avoid cruises even if you're vaccinated" gut punch. I have no idea how the either the cruiselines or the traveling public will respond, or how long it will take for some sort of improvement. The cruiselines haven't helped their position by being extremely stingy with refunds when something goes wrong.
Overall. Sorry if it's repetitive, but my main take on travel planning remains as it has been for the last two years: Stay flexible, and make as few nonrefundable prepayments and deposits as possible. If you have to pay a lot up front, get travel insurance that covers you for COVID contingencies. 2022 will have some nasty surprises for at least some travelers.