5 Things We Know About Flying This Summer

If the start of the spring break is any sign of it – when an average of more than a million passengers a day pass through security at US airports – domestic summer travel is just around the corner.

Airlines have expanded their route networks, especially in vacation destinations, as competition for leisure travelers intensifies. Leisure travelers are expected to lead the recovery as business travel continues to lag behind.

Here are five things we know about flying this summer.

According to the airline industry group Airlines for America, passenger numbers for US airlines fell 53 percent in mid-March compared to pre-Covid-19 levels, but since the darkest days of the pandemic when it bottomed below 90 percent.

With the gentle bounce, only Delta Air Lines continued to block the middle seats until April. It wouldn’t comment on an extension. (Alaska Airlines will keep the middle seats in its premium class open until May 31st).

“I expect Delta will lift the blocked center seat policy,” said Henry Harteveldt, president of the Travel Advisory Group, Atmosphere Research Group, citing continued vaccinations to build traveler confidence and competition from other airlines. “Delta understands that it has to compete more on price than it has in the past.”

Although the average plane has been 64 percent full in the past few weeks, summer looks busier. Airfare app Hopper found that searches for domestic travel have increased nearly 60 percent since February 20, comparable to searches in January 2020 before the pandemic.

Helane Becker, airline analyst at investment bank Cowen, predicted that domestic vacation travel this summer will grow to five percent of the pre-epidemic level, while business and international travel will remain 80 to 90 percent cheaper.

“People are fed up with this heavenly prison in their homes,” said Ms. Becker. “I think we’ll see what I call jailbreaking this summer.”

According to Peter Belobaba, who studies the global aviation industry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, air fares will rise as more people travel. However, travelers can expect yo-yo prices as airlines carefully manage seat prices.

“It’s difficult to get a cheap fare to Honolulu on a Friday, but it’s pretty easy to get a cheap fare to Boise on a Tuesday morning,” he said.

Hopper predicts that summer flight prices will rise about 12 percent in May but will remain low. The average domestic round-trip flight is estimated to be around $ 257 in midsummer, compared to around $ 230 today.

But without business travelers, who tend to spend more and fly more, airlines will lack the ability to raise fares significantly. The global business travel association trade organization does not anticipate a full recovery in business travel before 2025.

The expansion of low-cost airlines during the pandemic should keep prices low.

“Low-cost leisure airlines will be back to 2019 levels, maybe a little bit higher, this summer,” said Savanthi Syth, airline analyst at Raymond James & Associates.

Southwest Airlines plans to begin flying to Myrtle Beach, SC, this summer, one of 17 destinations added or announced as part of the pandemic, including Palm Springs, California and Bozeman, Mont.

Spirit Airlines adds St. Louis, Mo. and Milwaukee. Shortly after February 23, when Spirit announced it was serving Louisville, Kentucky, a Hopper poll found that competing Louisville to Las Vegas fares rose from $ 330 to $ 225 round-trip.

“By the end of the year, six low-cost airlines are likely to fight for travelers,” said Harteveldt, citing two low-cost airlines, Breeze Airways and Avelo Airlines, which are expected to start this year. “The more low-cost airlines, the more low-cost airfields are available to the public, not only with those airlines but also with airlines that compete with them.”

During the pandemic, most airlines dropped their cancellation and change fees (although Southwest never charged them), but the rules for some of the cheapest fares are changing.

As before the pandemic, Basic Economy tickets at American and Delta will no longer be refundable or exchangeable until April. United said it has not decided whether the waiver should be extended after March 31.

Starting April 1st, JetBlue passengers who purchase the airline base fare will be subject to change and cancellation fees.

Ultra-low-cost carriers also forego waivers. Spirit is suspending fees for tickets that were only booked until the end of March. After March 31, Frontier Airlines change fees will range from $ 0 to $ 59, depending on when a ticket is changed.

Many travelers who have had to cancel their plans since the pandemic have received vouchers for future flights, which usually expire after a year. A study by TripActions, a business travel management company, found that 55 percent of vouchers for unused tickets will expire in 2021 and 45 percent will expire in 2022.

The battle for refunds due to pandemic-related cancellations continues. This month, Consumer Reports and the US Public Interest Research Group sent a letter to 10 airlines requesting refunds on request – citing the nearly 90,000 refund complaints the U.S. Department of Transportation received in 2020, up 87 percent of all complaints about Airlines – and an extension of the voucher expiry until the end of 2022.

While several airlines have extended their expiration dates to 2021 or 2022, it’s important to read the fine print on the credit form issued by an airline as terms vary.

“Even when renewing vouchers, airlines try to do everything possible to create goodwill for travelers but also to keep travelers’ money,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Move on, Biscoff Cookies. Chicken wraps and Coca-Cola are about to make a comeback.

During the pandemic, many airlines reduced or stopped catering services, but this summer Frontier Airlines plans to resume grocery sales. United said it would adjust its guidelines in the coming weeks. Southwest plans to add soft drinks with its snacks in addition to cups of water. Delta launched a new touchless payment system for onboard sales on March 16, which is currently limited to earbuds but is expected to expand to food and beverages.

“This is one of the biggest problems passengers currently have when flying,” Harteveldt said, noting that concessions remain closed at many airports, making it difficult for travelers to bring their own food on board. “If health considerations about where restaurants can reopen and industry-funded research shows that airplanes are one of the cleanest and safest places to go and you get vaccinations, I think airlines have no choice but that Plan to resume cabin duty. ”

Most observers say the protocols airlines put in place to help the public feel safe to fly again – particularly deep cleaning and mask mandates – will continue.

The airlines had mask mandates before the Executive Order of the Biden administration took effect on February 1st. To implement the order, the Transportation Security Administration requires masks at airports and on airplanes by May 11th.

A TSA spokeswoman said it was too early to say what will happen after that date, but given the airline’s support, masks may be required in the future.

“Airlines for America airlines have been requiring face covers for all passengers and employees with customer contact since last April, and this policy will remain in effect for the duration of the pandemic,” wrote Katherine Estep, a group spokeswoman, in an email.

A recent JD Power survey of more than 1,500 travelers at airports found that 58 percent said the requirement of masks was the most important security measure for airports. 42 percent said they will likely continue to wear masks and socially distance themselves through 2021 and beyond.

Even though you can eat in the air, you shouldn’t expect to remove the masks for long periods of time. “Masks have to be worn between biting and swallowing,” says United on its website.

The lack of international and business travel has messed up the airline’s route map. Flights to international business destinations like London and Frankfurt have been cut in favor of more flights to vacation destinations, particularly in Florida and mountain states like Montana.

In a comparison from March 2021 to March 2019, almost all countries recorded declines in scheduled flights. Only the traffic to South Dakota and Montana grew.

Most airlines announce new services for leisure destinations in time for summer and in many cases offer a convenient point-to-point service geared towards low-cost airlines rather than routing leaflets through hubs.

There are new flights to Honolulu from Austin, Texas coming in April with Hawaiian Airlines. With partners JetBlue and Alaska, American is adding 10 routes from Austin. Southwest plans to expand its original winter service to Telluride and Steamboat Springs, Colorado by the summer. JetBlue recently added Miami and Key West, Florida, and Allegiant is new to Key West, Jackson, Wyo. And Portland, Ore.

While the trend may be rural, bargains remain in cities.

“US cities are very affordable this summer and are about to make a comeback,” wrote Mel Dohmen, a spokeswoman for online travel agency Orbitz, in an email about flights to Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle all cheaper in July than in July 2019.

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