DALLAS ( Associated Press) — Airlines and tourist destinations are expecting monster crowds this summer as travel restrictions ease and fears of contracting COVID-19 while traveling stomp the fatigue of the pandemic.
Many forecasters believe that passenger numbers will match or even exceed those in the good old, pre-pandemic days. However, airlines have thousands of fewer employees than in 2019, and this has at times contributed to widespread flight cancellations.
People who are booking travel only for the summer right now are experiencing sticker shock.
According to travel-data firm Hopper, domestic airline fares for the summer average $400 per round trip, 24% higher than this time in 2019, and 45% higher than a year ago.
“The time to get cheap summer flights was probably three or four months ago,” says Scott Keyes, who runs Scott’s cheap flights site.
Internationally, fares have also increased from 2019, but only by 10%. According to Hopper, prices in Europe are about 5% cheaper than before the pandemic – $868 for an average round trip. Keys said Europe is the best travel deal.
Steve Nelson of Mansfield, Texas, lined up at a security checkpoint at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport this week to prepare for a flight to Nice, France, with plans to take part in a Formula One race in Monaco.
“I decided it was time to work on my bucket list,” Nelson said. “I didn’t even consider Monaco until this year.”
Although many countries have relaxed travel rules, there are some restrictions that add to the hassle factor. Notably, the United States still requires a negative COVID-19 test within a day of flying into the country.
“We realized this only a few days before we came here. We panicked to find a place to test,” said Johnny Dave, a software engineer in Bath, England, who was in Dallas for a conference – his first major trip since the pandemic began. “You have to check all the testing requirements for those countries, and you have to worry about contracting the virus.”
According to Adobe Analytics, online spending on US flights eased in April after a brisk March, but it’s still up 23% from spring 2019, mostly due to higher prices.
Airlines blame stagnant fares on jet fuel almost doubling in price over 2019 However, it is much more than that. The number of flights has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, despite increased travel demand.
“We have more passengers who want 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 arrive at their destination, they will be greeted by hotel rates that are about a third higher than last year. Hotels are also filling up fast. Hotel companies blame workers in a tight labor market, along with rising costs of supply, for the higher prices.
Rental cars were hard to find and very expensive last summer, but rental companies seem to have rebuilt their fleets. According to Hopper, the average price nationwide is currently around $70 a day.
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 vehicle prices are still “above average, if you can even find one” in nearby destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, and national parks.
Even if you drive your own car, it will still be expensive. The national average for regular gasoline hit $4.60 a gallon on Thursday – Over $6 in California. Those prices are what some people are considering staying in the house.,
“You really don’t get used to the $6 gas,” said Juliet Ripley of San Diego, as she paid $46.38 to put a 7.1 gallon in her Honda Civic. The single mom of two had a beach nearby. There are no summer vacation plans other than an occasional trip.
However, for those looking to travel, it is an open question whether airlines, airports, hotels and other travel businesses will be able to handle them.
An average of more than 2.1 million people a day board aircraft in the United States, about 90% of 2019 levels and a number that is sure to rise to several million a day by July.
The US Transportation Security Administration has tapped about 1,000 checkpoint screeners, who can move from airport to airport depending on where they are needed most.
“We are as prepared as possible,” says TSA chief David Pekoske.
Airlines that paid employees when travel stopped in 2020 are now scrambling to hire enough pilots, flight attendants and other staff. The biggest four US airlines – American, Delta, United and Southwest – had about 36,000 fewer employees in early 2022 than before the pandemic, a drop of about 10%, despite aggressive hiring that began last year.
Pilots are especially in short supply at smaller regional airlines that operate nearly half of all US flights under names such as American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express.
Airlines are cutting summer schedules to avoid overloading their employees and canceling flights at the last minute. This week, Delta cut about 100 flights a day, or 2%, from its July schedule, and an average of more than 150 flights a day, or 3%, in August. Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue had previously reduced summer flights.
The cancellations are not limited to the US. In the United Kingdom, EasyJet and British Airways took several flights this spring due to staffing shortages.
Air travel within Europe is expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels this summer, although according to a new report from the European Travel Commission, visitors from outside the region are expected to drop 30% from 2019. The group does not expect international travel to return to normal until 2025.
According to travel experts, Russia’s war in Ukraine doesn’t affect bookings in most of Europe, but it will reduce the number of Russian and Ukrainian travelers whose favorite destinations include Cyprus, Montenegro, Latvia, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania. The commission said. Russian tourists are big spenders, so their absence will hurt tourism economies in those destinations.
Also largely missing: Chinese tourists, the world’s biggest travel spenders who remain largely restricted by their government’s “zero-Covid” strategy, Some European destinations report that Chinese tourist numbers have dropped by more than 90% since 2019.
Calvin Chan in London and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.