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Prepare for sticker shock if you travel this summer

Fuel cost, worker shortage, high demand push prices

By Associated Press
Published: May 27, 2022, 9:12pm
2 Photos
Travelers queue up at the south security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport, Thursday, May 26, 2022, in Denver. Experts are expecting a flush of travelers at airports and on the nation's byways during the long Memorial Day weekend, which marks the start of the summer travel season, in spite of high fuel costs.
Travelers queue up at the south security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport, Thursday, May 26, 2022, in Denver. Experts are expecting a flush of travelers at airports and on the nation's byways during the long Memorial Day weekend, which marks the start of the summer travel season, in spite of high fuel costs. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) Photo Gallery

DALLAS — Airlines and tourist destinations are expecting monster crowds this summer as travel restrictions ease and pandemic fatigue overcomes lingering fear of contracting COVID-19 during travel.

Many forecasters believe the number of travelers will match or even exceed levels in the good-old, pre-pandemic days. However, airlines have thousands fewer employees than they did in 2019, and that has at times contributed to widespread flight cancellations.

People who are only now booking travel for the summer are experiencing the sticker shock.

Domestic airline fares for summer are averaging more than $400 a round trip, 24 percent higher than this time in 2019, before the pandemic, and a whopping 45 percent higher than a year ago, according to travel-data firm Hopper.

“The time to have gotten cheap summer flights was probably three or four months ago,” says Scott Keyes, who runs the Scott’s Cheap Flights site.

Internationally, fares are also up from 2019, but only 10 percent. Prices to Europe are about 5 percent cheaper than before the pandemic — $868 for the average round trip, according to Hopper. Keyes said Europe is the best travel bargain out there.

Steve Nelson of Mansfield, Texas, was standing in line this week at a security checkpoint in Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, ready to board a flight to Nice, France, with plans to attend a Formula One race in Monaco.

“I decided it’s time to work on my bucket list,” Nelson said. “I hadn’t even considered Monaco until this year.”

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Although many countries have eased rules for travel, there are still restrictions in place that add to the hassle factor. Notably, the United States still requires a negative COVID-19 test within a day of flying to the country.

“We only realized that a couple days before coming here. We kind of panicked to find a place to get tested,” said Jonny Dawe, a software engineer from Bath, England, who was in Dallas for a conference — his first major trip since the pandemic started. “You have to check all the testing requirements for the countries you are visiting, and you have to worry about contracting the virus.”

Online spending on U.S. flights eased in April after a torrid March, but it’s still up 23 percent from spring 2019 mostly because of higher prices, according to Adobe Analytics.

Airlines blame the steeper fares on jet fuel roughly doubling in price over 2019. It’s more than that, however. The number of flights has not returned to pre-pandemic levels even though demand for travel is surging.

“We have more travelers looking to book fewer seats, and each of those seats is going to be more expensive for airlines to fly this summer because of jet fuel,” says Hopper economist Hayley Berg.

When travelers reach their destination, they will be greeted with hotel rates that are up about one-third from last year. Hotels are filling faster, too. Hotel companies blame higher prices on increasing cost for supplies as well as workers in a tight labor market.

Rental cars were hard to find and very expensive last summer, but that seems to have eased as the rental companies rebuild their fleets. The nationwide average price is currently around $70 a day, according to Hopper.

Jonathan Weinberg, founder of a rental car shopping site called AutoSlash, said prices and availability of vehicles will be very uneven. It won’t be as bad as last summer, but prices for vehicles will still be “way above average, if you can even find one,” in Hawaii, Alaska and near destinations such as national parks.

Even if you drive your own car, it’ll still be pricey. The national average for regular gasoline hit $4.60 a gallon on Thursday — more than $6 in California. Those prices have some people considering staying home.

“You don’t really get used to $6 gas,” said Juliet Ripley of San Diego as she paid $46.38 to put 7.1 gallons in her Honda Civic. The single mom of two has no summer vacation plans other than an occasional trip to a nearby beach.

For those determined to travel, however, it is an open question whether airlines, airports, hotels and other travel businesses will be able to handle them.

More than 2.1 million people a day on average are boarding planes in the United States, about 90 percent of 2019 levels and a number that is sure to grow by several hundred thousand a day by July.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has tapped nearly 1,000 checkpoint screeners who can move from one airport to another, depending on where they are needed most.

“We are as ready as we possibly can be,” says TSA chief David Pekoske.

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