SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) — It’s been a tumultuous travel season as Americans break free of COVID restrictions and take to the skies – only to find airfares have skyrocketed… and so have flight delays.
So are prices and flights becoming more reliable?
One could say airlines and airports weren’t quite ready for the first major surge in air travel since the pandemic. Millions of travelers have had to deal with flight delays, cancellations and high ticket prices this summer. Now airfares are going down and travel is smoother. But will it last?
Christina Cook from Sonoma had just left a peaceful yoga retreat in the Portuguese countryside. She was filled with a sense of calm and serenity…
… until she tried to fly home.
“I’ve flown a lot in my life, as have many others. I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Cook. “I don’t really know what caused something so terrible.”
She was immediately immersed in the flight chaos that began when her flight from Lisbon was delayed three hours, then sat on the tarmac in Toronto for two hours, missing her connecting flight home to Sonoma. Air Canada closed its gate and the ticket sellers went home.
Christina slept on an airport windowsill.
“I used some of the techniques I use to stay calm on the way home throughout the whole deal with the flight. I just didn’t want to lose all the good mojo,” she said.
Her suitcase got lost among thousands of others piled up near baggage claim. She paid $866 for another ticket home.
“I got an email from them saying they won’t refund my ticket because it wasn’t their fault,” Cook said.
Cook was among millions of passengers who paid high air fares only to be met with rampant flight delays and cancellations during peak summer travel days.
Coincidentally, Toronto Airport had the world’s worst on-time record this summer, accounting for 51% of delayed flights.
“Flight disruptions really peaked in late May, early June. It got pretty bad in there early in the summer, it wasn’t just your imagination,” said Scott Keyes of Scotts Cheap Travel.
Overall, about one in four flights in the US was delayed, and 55,000 were canceled between May and August.
“This is significantly higher than the historical average. And I think it really underscores what a difficult time it’s been for a lot of travelers,” Keyes said.
Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Travel says airlines are struggling to ramp up operations following the pandemic lull, leading to shortages of pilots, agents and ground staff.
But the suspension over the summer has already helped reduce delays and cancellations. Airlines have grounded thousands of flights rather than straining the system too much.
“It’s not like there won’t be any issues or disruptions, but there should be a lot less, less and more in between than we’ve seen over the summer,” Keyes said.
Flight prices are also falling. Prices, which rose 37% over the summer, are now down 40% or more.
“As a rule of thumb, post-Labor Day flights are typically about 50% cheaper than pre-Labor Day flights,” Keyes said.
For example, Keyes said flights from San Francisco to Maui dropped from $548 before Labor Day to just $266 after.
And SFO to Portugal fell two-thirds from $1,000 to just $379.
“It’s not like every single ticket or every single date will be at least half cheaper than in midsummer. But on average, that’s certainly the kind of reduction you can expect in ticket prices,” Keyes said.
But these prices will not last. According to Keyes, holiday airfares will rise back up to summer rates.
“If you wait until November to book those winter holiday flights, you’re saying that by that time the airfares are likely not only not going to be cheap, they’re not even going to be decent, they’re going to be very expensive,” he said.
Domestic travel is usually most expensive on Thanksgiving, when people stay in the country to visit family. Travel abroad is cheaper at the end of November.
Check out more stories and videos from Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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