DALLAS (AP) — 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% higher than this time in 2019, before the pandemic, and a whopping 45% 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.
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)
Internationally, fares are also up from 2019, but only 10%. Prices to Europe are about 5% cheaper than before the pandemic — $868 for the average round trip, according to Hopper. Keyes said Europe is the best travel bargain out there.
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Online spending on U.S. flights eased in April after a torrid March, but it’s still up 23% 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.
Travelers queue up at the north 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)
When travelers reach their destination, they will be greeted with hotel rates that are up about one-third from last year. Hotels are filling up faster, too. Hotel companies blame the 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% 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.Airlines that paid employees to quit when travel collapsed in 2020 are now scrambling to hire enough pilots, flight attendants and other workers. The largest four U.S. airlines — American, Delta, United and Southwest — together had roughly 36,000 fewer employees at the start of 2022 than before the pandemic, a drop of nearly 10%, despite aggressive hiring that started last year.Pilots are in particularly short supply at smaller regional airlines that operate nearly half of all U.S. flights under names like American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express.Airlines are trimming summer schedules to avoid overloading their staffs and canceling flights at the last minute. This week, Delta cut about 100 flights a day, or 2%, from its July schedule, and more than 150 flights a day on average, or 3%, in August. Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue previously reduced summer flights.Cancellations aren’t limited to the U.S. In the United Kingdom, easyJet and British Airways scrubbed many flights this spring because of staffing shortages.Air travel within Europe is expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels this summer, although visitors from outside the region will likely be down 30% from 2019, according to a new report from the European Travel Commission. The group doesn’t expect international travel to return to normal until 2025.Russia’s war in Ukraine does not appear to be hurting bookings to most of Europe, according to travel experts, 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 tend to be big spenders, so their absence will hurt tourism economies in those destinations.Also largely missing: Chinese tourists, the world’s largest travel spenders, who remain largely restricted by their government’s “zero-COVID” strategy. Some European destinations report that the number of Chinese tourists is down by more than 90% from 2019.
Did you know TSA prohibits these innocent items from being in your carry-on bag?
1. English Christmas Crackers
Much to the dismay of British travelers, English Christmas crackers are prohibited by the TSA.The small, popular party favor is used to celebrate Christmas and other special occasions. When popped, it creates a “bang” sound with the help of a minuscule amount of gunpowder stored inside.
2. Ink and toner cartridges
According to the U.S. Transportation Administration, ink and toner cartridges that are more than 16-ounces in weight pose a risk to air travel security and are banned from both carry-on and checked baggage.
3. Most sports equipment
Sports equipment like baseball bats, hockey sticks and golf clubs can be used as bludgeons and are prohibited in the cabin of airplanes. If you wish to travel with these items, they must be stored and transported in checked baggage.
4. Aerosol insecticide
As long as they aren’t labeled “hazardous material,” aerosol insecticides can be transported in checked baggage. However, you could have your can of bug spray swiftly confiscated if you try to bring it through TSA.
5. Bang Snaps
The highly entertaining (and rather annoying) childhood toys known as Bang Snaps, Bang Pops, or TNT Pop-Its are strictly prohibited in both checked and carry-on baggage. This is most likely due to the small amounts of explosive silver fulminate stored inside of each tiny pouch of fun.
6. Cooking spray
Although it’s highly unlikely you would ever be traveling with a can of Pam, you should know that it is considered a restricted item according to TSA’s standards. Cooking spray cannot be transported by air travel in checked or carry-on baggage.
7. Foam toy swords
If you’re traveling to or from a certain fairytale-themed amusement park, be sure to explain to your young prince and princess that their foam swords must travel separately in a checked bag.
8. Wrapped gifts
One way TSA could ruin your holiday mood is by unwrapping a gift you spent time packaging. Unless you want your gifts to be unwrapped and reconstructed with TSA tape, you may want to wait until arriving at your final destination before wrapping presents.
9. Samsung Galaxy Note 7
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone devices are banned from air travel in the United States.The ban was initiated in 2016 after a series of recalls on the device were ordered due to its tendency to spontaneously combust.“Device owners have experienced documented incidents of dangerous evolution of heat with both recalled and replacement Samsung Galaxy Note7 devices,” the Department of Transportation said in a statement. “Anyone violating the ban may be subject to criminal prosecution in addition to fines.”
John Biehlr on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/LgLdek
Kelvin Chan in London and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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