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Airfares hit highest level in years despite falling fuel prices

Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES — Jet fuel prices have been dropping dramatically since May, and the nation's airlines now have more workers on staff than before the pandemic.

So Americans preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas travel should expect lower airfares and fewer delays and cancellations, right?

Don't get your hopes up.

Ticket prices for domestic and international flights scheduled around the Thanksgiving holiday are trending 22% higher than at the same time in 2019, with Christmas flights up even more, according to the travel site Hopper. They are the highest fares in about five years.

Another travel site, Cheapair.com, has a different set of numbers with the same message: Air travel will be pricey this holiday season. Airline prices for Thanksgiving are about 25% above 2021 levels, and fares for flights for Christmas and New Years are up 28%, Cheapair.com said in its annual holiday travel report.

"This year, CheapAir.com is anticipating a busy holiday season with high prices, and recommends that travelers shop earlier than they might have pre-pandemic," said Jeff Klee, the company's chief executive.

 

The flight cancellations and delays that plagued air travel during the busy summer season have leveled off, but the problems that prompted the glitches — COVID-19 outbreaks among airline staff and an influx of inexperienced new airline workers — are not gone.

"Unfortunately we are not at the point where we can say we are past the worst of this," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.

A big factor in airfares is jet fuel prices, which represent about 30% of all expenses for the nation's airlines. Jet fuel prices nearly doubled in April and May, partly because of the instability in the oil market caused by the Russian war in Ukraine. Since then, jet fuel prices have been dropping, sliding 14% in the last month, temporarily pushing airfares down in recent months, industry experts say.

Despite the drop in fuel prices, however, airfares are on the rise because demand for air travel is surging. Many industry experts describe it as "revenge travel" because Americans are trying to make up for the travel they missed during the pandemic lockdowns. The number of passengers passing through security screening gates at the nation's airports in the last week is about 30% above the same period last year, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

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