Monday, June 5, 2023

Storm adds uncertainty to holiday travel demand

Worries about illness or inflation aren’t keeping Americans from taking to the streets and airports this holiday season. But a massive winter storm could be coming.

An early sign of trouble came in Seattle on Tuesday, where a winter storm caused the cancellation of at least 192 flights, according to the FlightAware tracking service. Greyhound also canceled bus service between Seattle and Spokane.

Airlines gave passengers the option of choosing new flights to avoid inclement weather. Delta, American, United and Southwest waived change fees at affected airports.

The Transportation Security Administration predicted December 22 and December 30 to be the busiest days at US airports, with traffic expected to be close to pre-pandemic levels.

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Airports said they would try harder to stay open. Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports said they have 350 pieces of equipment and 400,000 gallons of pavement de-icing fluid between them to keep runways and taxiways clear.

The weather added uncertainty to what is expected to be a busy travel season. Earlier this month, AAA estimated that nearly 113 million people would travel 50 miles or more from home between December 23 and January 2. This is up 4% from the previous year, although still less than the record 119 million in 2019.

Most planned to travel by car. About 6% will travel by air, AAA said. Either way, many travelers may find themselves changing their itineraries in a hurry.

Joel Luster had originally planned to drive from Bloomington, Indiana, to McGregor, Iowa, on Thursday. But he changed his work schedule, and his wife canceled an appointment so he could go on Wednesday and ride out the storm.

Kurt Ebenhoch, a consumer travel advocate and former airline executive, said the waiver of fees for inclement weather that airlines introduced nearly 20 years ago gives consumers valuable time before a storm to explore alternative days and routes. Is.

But consumers need to read the fine print carefully. For example, Delta is currently waiving any difference in fares for rebooked travel that takes place before December 25 for flights out of the Pacific Northwest. But if the flights are rebooked for a date after December 25, passengers may have to pay the difference in fares.

Ebenhoch said passengers have the right to ask the airline to rebook them on another airline if there is no alternative that meets their needs. And if the airline cancels the flight, consumers are entitled to a full refund, not just a credit for future travel.

The desire to travel and visit family and friends over the holidays appears to outweigh concerns about illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that coronavirus cases and deaths have risen in recent weeks, and that the trio of COVID-19, seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is straining the health care system.

William Carr was traveling from Los Angeles to Minneapolis on Monday, where he plans to visit his sister and then on to Iowa. Karr said he would wear a mask on flights to avoid getting sick over the holidays, but he has taken other flights without a mask.

“I think precautions go out the window at a certain point, and people are prepared to catch COVID if it means they’ll be at home with their families,” Kar said.

Inflation also didn’t seem to be cutting into holiday travel demand. Average round-trip airfare rose 22% to $397 in the second quarter of this year – the most recent period available – according to US government data. This was higher than overall US price inflation, which peaked at 9% in June.

Stacey Seal, who was flying Monday from Los Angeles to her home in Boise, Idaho, said her family had opted to go to Disneyland by using two free companion tickets, earned through an airline credit card. are done.

“If I had to buy a ticket without a companion fare, I would probably have stopped and considered the price now,” she said.

Travelers appear to be making the cut in other ways, said Lindsey Roeschke, travel and hospitality analyst at market research company Morning Consult.

In a recent survey, Morning Consult found that 28% of American travelers were planning a day trip for the holidays, up from 14% last year. There was also an increase in the number of people planning to stay with friends or family instead of hotels. Roschke thinks high prices were a factor.

“Inflation is still playing a role,” Roschke said. “It’s not stopping people from traveling, but it’s really changing the way they travel.”

Associated Press News Associate Amankai Biraben contributed from Los Angeles.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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