Suppressed demand and fewer flights could lead to travel problems this summer. : NPR

Passengers line up through the northern security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport, Thursday, May 26, 2022.

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David Zalobowski/AFP

Passengers line up through the northern security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport, Thursday, May 26, 2022.

David Zalobowski/AFP

CHICAGO — At airports this summer, it may seem as if the pandemic never happened. Long security queues, crowded gates and crowded planes; They all came back. As well as exorbitant prices and additional fees.

“Air fare is incredibly high for domestic travel this summer,” says Hayley Berg, chief economist at Huber App, Huber, Travel Research and Data. “We’re seeing airfares this week averaging about $394 round-trip domestic flight per ticket.”

Berg says this is about 50% more than last summer and about 25% higher than airfares during the summer of 2019 before the pandemic.

A new report released today from Adobe Analytics finds that prices for domestic flights have risen 47% since January. The company measures online domestic air travel reservations at six of the 10 largest US airlines and 150 billion visits to online travel sites, and found that consumers spent $8.3 billion on air travel in May, up 6.2% from April. Adobe data shows that airfares for flights booked in May were 30% higher than they were in May 2019, the year many in the industry use for benchmarking before the pandemic.

“It has been really amazing to see us, especially because of where we have been with air travel early in the pandemic and for most of the past two years,” says Vivek Pandya, senior analyst at Adobe Digital Insights. “We are now seeing heavy demand coupled with higher prices,” which has yet to dampen the heavy demand for air travel.

“These high airfares don’t deter passengers and this (for travel) both domestically and abroad,” says Huber’s Hayley Berg. “Consumers are willing to pay higher airfares to get away this summer.”

One of the biggest factors driving up airline ticket prices is the huge rise in jet fuel prices. Berg says the rising cost of crude oil has more than doubled prices for jet fuel since 2019.

Another factor is “the huge rise in demand for travel after two years of travel under very heavy pressure”, says Berg, at a time when there was “less capacity than in 2019”.

“Look, there are a lot of people who haven’t been able to travel where they want, as they want, for two years,” said travel analyst Henry Hartfeldt of Atmosphere Research Group, who noted that airline bookings are back to pre-pandemic levels, but “. We’re still 10% less than the number of flights we had before COVID.”

“And that means fewer options, and fewer choices means fewer seats,” Hartfeldt adds. “In addition, some airlines do not operate as many wide-body aircraft…and that also means fewer seats.”

He and others say travelers who haven’t booked their summer flight may be better off delaying their vacation until fall, when airfares will likely fall and there may be more flights to choose from.

“It’s going to be a ‘Hunger Games’ fight to get the fares you want, the flights you want” this summer, says Hartfeldt. “The concern I have is that there is not much wiggle room, no flexibility, in the industry if and when something goes wrong.”

In the summer, Hartfeldt points out, something like bad weather and a lack of staff at airlines can combine to create chaos in air travel, with widespread delays and cancellations of flights.

That’s what happened during the busy Memorial Day weekend, when airlines canceled thousands of flights, and thousands more were delayed.

So airlines are trying to be proactive and cutting flights from their summer schedules in an effort to reduce delays and cancellations.

“Because of staff shortages, especially with pilots, airlines have scaled back the number of flights they will operate this summer in order to have additional pilots, additional flight attendants, and additional aircraft, ready,” Hartfeldt says. Something else is disrupting their operations.”

Delta Air Lines, which has seen a slew of cancellations in recent weeks, has now cut more than 100 flights per day from its schedule for the rest of the summer. US, United, Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska, and other airlines have cut their summer flight schedules, too.

As of May, the seven largest US airlines have canceled 3% of all their flights this year, says Kathleen Bangs of flight tracker FlightAware, whose data shows that nearly all of them have had their own operational meltdowns periodically over the past year. .

“Anything over 1% before COVID we thought was a very high number,” Bangs says. “So that’s been high this year, and it’s good that airlines have cut some because there is such a high demand.”

What do experts recommend to help you avoid the trap of flight delays and cancellations?

Bangs says she advises people to get a good weather app and look at the forecast ahead of time for the days you are scheduled to travel.

“They have 14-day forecasts, (and) you can get a fairly good idea, certainly 7 days later, of what the weather will be like,” says Bangs.

She adds that it’s important to look at the forecast not just for places you fly to and from, but across the country because storms in one location can have a ripple effect, causing delays and cancellations across the entire airline network.

Bangs says airlines may allow travelers to change flights to a day or two before or days after storms are expected.

“There’s a good chance if you contact the airline because of these events, they will understand (the flight change) and will put this (information) on their websites,” Bangs says.

She also recommends booking flights directly with the airline so you have a better chance of resolving an issue if it does arise.

“I feel bad about these internet search companies selling tickets, but you really want to buy your ticket directly from the airlines because if there’s a problem, it’s a lot easier to get the airlines to work with you,” says Bangs. “But if you buy that through a third party, it’s very difficult to make those changes” on your flight, she adds.

To find discounted rates, experts recommend flexibility in your travel plans.

“If you fly later in August, you can save about $100 per ticket from peak prices,” Huber’s Hayley Berg says. “If you can fly in the middle of the week, say Tuesday or Wednesday, you can save about $35 or more on a domestic flight. So flexibility is really key to finding great deals if you haven’t booked your summer vacation yet.”

In addition, many travel experts advise to plan ahead as if something is wrong, because summer air travel chaos is almost inevitable.

“Any of us planning to travel this summer should go with the assumption that something is going to go wrong and get excited when it doesn’t,” says Hartfeldt.

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