Spring Break Travel: Airlines and Airports Hope Travel Boom Expands to Summer

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Parking houses are filling up. The terminals are buzzing. The passengers and their bags filled with sunscreen and snacks are back.

Airlines claim that the effects of the omicron variant have largely disappeared, and despite concerns about the BA.2 strain, rising fuel prices and higher labor costs, the industry’s hopes for a strong spring and summer seem to be on track. Two years after the start of the pandemic, demand is reflected in increased bookings before one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.

Tampa International Airport chief Joe Lopano said it was beginning to feel like a pandemic – except for a 20-foot pink flamingo that flew in last month to greet visitors.

“Last year was good, but this year is even better,” Lopano said. “When you enter the terminal, it’s like 2019.”

In March, the Office of Traffic Safety announced 19 days during which police officers checked more than 2 million people, compared to none in March 2021. April witnessed several days when the number of checks exceeded 2 million – a number that was routinely exceeded in 2019. .

Airlines bet on reviving travel after the omicron faded

“People are starting to travel again, there is no denying it,” said Ragina Ali, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “After being imprisoned for lack of a better word, they want to get out.”

In the country’s capital, officials at Reagan National Airport are urging passengers to reserve a parking space in advance as garages are increasingly reaching capacity. Jack Potter, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Washington Dulles National Airport and International Airport, said it was another sign that passengers were returning.

In a regulatory filing last month, United Airlines announced that it had recorded better-than-expected bookings as the number of cases involving the omicron began to disappear. The carrier stated that expected revenues for the first quarter will be higher than originally expected. United also said at the time that it expected to operate fewer flights than planned due to rising fuel prices and geopolitical factors.

“System bookings for future travel have improved by almost 40 points since the first week of 2022, and business attendance has increased by more than 30 points since Omicron’s peak in January 2022,” the company said in a statement.

Analysts say vaccines are another reason why demand is stronger this year. At this time last year, healthcare professionals only began offering coronavirus injections. According to The Washington Post, nearly 66 percent of Americans are now fully vaccinated.

Nevertheless, tourism has been here before: last spring, the introduction of the vaccine stimulated renewed demand for air transport, then the delta option stopped the recovery at the end of the summer. The number of bookings has increased again around Thanksgiving and Christmas, as have infections associated with the omicron variant. The growing number of cases has caused airlines to be short of staff and – combined with bad weather – have resulted in thousands of flight delays during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

Aware of the potential pitfalls, many carriers have adjusted their plans to better match the number of employees, in the hopes of avoiding a recurrence of last year’s problems. Alaska Airlines offers flight attendants financial incentives to ensure sufficient staff during the spring break.

28,000 flights canceled later, airlines are still struggling to get on top

However, operational problems still persist. During the Florida storm, more than 3,000 flights were canceled last weekend as carriers struggled with staffing issues. As fuel and labor costs rise, airlines compete with each other to replace the tens of thousands of workers who left during the pandemic.

Demand for lucrative business travel is growing as more people return to offices, but still lag behind pre-pandemic levels, with the American Travel Association expecting a recovery in 2024.

After rising demand, ticket prices are also rising. Data from Airlines Reporting Corp., which monitors payments between airlines and travel agents on tickets purchased in the United States, found that the average return ticket price in the United States was $ 464 in February, 34 percent more than in February 2021, when the average price was $ 346. USD. Nevertheless, this figure was still lower than the pre-pandemic February monthly average of $ 488.

“If you watched travel during the pandemic, you would think that prices have risen dramatically, but they are not at the level of 2019,” said George Ferguson, senior analyst for the aerospace industry at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Ferguson and other analysts said it was necessary for prices to rise as more people began to fly.

Willis Orlando, Senior Product Operations Specialist s Scott’s cheap flights, he said, when carriers added additional charges for everything from extra legroom to early boarding, they became less dependent on the basic ticket for revenue. Orlando said the “unbundling” of options that used to be included in the ticket price allows larger carriers to better compete with leisure passengers. It could also allow them more flexibility in moving forward, he said.

Kerry Tan, an associate professor of economics at Loyole University, said the industry could be disadvantaged by higher fuel prices, which may encourage people to consider flying instead of driving.

“The fact that gas prices have risen has made ticket prices a little more attractive,” he said.

The growing demand for travel also comes with the federal mask mandate expiring. The Biden administration has not said whether it will extend the requirement for masks on planes, buses, ferries and other public transport facilities after 18 April. Tourism officials are pushing for the abolition of the requirement.

Camouflage mandate extended to air and public transport

In a letter to President Biden on March 23, 10 airline executives said that requirements should be lifted for people to wear masks on airplanes and prove a negative coronavirus test before boarding flights to the United States.

“A lot has changed since these measures were introduced and they no longer make sense in the current public health context,” executives wrote.

With or without masks, Lopano in Tampa is just happy to see terminals full of travelers again.

“Seeing the joy and happiness on their faces after they put their lives away for two years – they really want to go out to enjoy,” he said. “We have entered a new era here and people are ready to celebrate.”

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