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Summer air travel's up, and so are fares

Spectators look at an Airbus A380 airplane flying above them.

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Kai Ryssdal:If you're still hoping to score a great deal on airplane tickets for your summer vacation, well, you probably waited too long. And if you have already booked, you can get rid of those thoughts about stretching out on that seat next to you right now. This summer, stronger travel demand is going to run smack into a much smaller airline industry and all the crowded flights that is going to entail.

Jeff Horwich reports.


Jeff Horwich: For ticket-buyers, the recession seems to be over. After two down years, the Air Transport Association projects air travel will be up this summer, about 1 percent. Business travel's been on the rise this spring.

But the airline industry has been navigating its own recession for the last decade. Airlines have merged, cut pilots and parked hundreds of planes. They're not about to reverse course. So, demand is up; supply is not. Bring on the fare hikes.

Tom Parsons: We're looking at probably, coast to coast, on the norm anywhere between 18-20 percent higher than last summer.

Tom Parsons of BestFares.com says travelers face baggage fees that weren't around last summer, and new "peak travel" surcharges to fly on Sundays. The price of jet fuel is also up 20 percent.

Brett Snyder blogs as The Cranky Flier. He says the usual early summer sales have been scarce.

Brett Snyder: Bookings are strong, demand seems to be coming back, so they really haven't had to put that many discounts out there.

Smaller fleets mean domestic flights average 80 percent full. Flights on popular routes are packed. But Snyder says there's an upside to the industry's diminished capacity.

Snyder: When you have fewer aiplanes in the air that are trying to get in and out of an airport, then it gives you a little more room to wiggle.

Summer on-time performance used to be about 65 percent. Now it's closer to 85, says business travel analyst Joe Brancatelli. And if you are delayed, a new federal rule means you can't be stranded on the plane.

Joe Brancatelli: It's hot, more expensive and more crowded. But at least you'll get there faster and won't be hours on the tarmac.

In other words, have a lovely vacation.

I'm Jeff Horwich for Marketplace.

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