Air fares will drop in the fall, but not for long

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury KGO logo
Thursday, September 15, 2022
Air fares will drop in the fall, but not for long
"Flight disruptions really sort of hit a peak in late May, early June. Things got quite bad there at the beginning of the summer, it wasn't just your imagination," said one travel expert.

SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- It's been a tumultuous travel season as Americans broke free of COVID restraints and took to the skies -- only to find that airfares have soared... and so have flight delays.

So will prices and flights become more reliable?

You might say airlines and airports weren't quite ready for the first big surge in air travel since the pandemic. Millions of travelers this summer had to deal with flight delays, cancellations, and high ticket prices. Now airfares are falling, and travel is smoother. But will it last?

Christina Cook of Sonoma had just left a peaceful yoga retreat in the countryside of Portugal. She was filled with a sense of calm and serenity...

...until she tried to fly home.

"I've flown a lot of times in my life like a lot of people. I've never had an experience like that," said Cook. "I don't really know what caused such a horrible thing."

She was instantly immersed in air travel chaos that began when her flight out of Lisbon was delayed three hours, then sat on the tarmac in Toronto for two hours, causing her to miss her connecting flight home to Sonoma. Air Canada locked its gate and ticket agents went home.

Christina slept in an airport window sill.

"I used some of the techniques I use to stay calm during the whole deal with the flight on the way home. I just didn't want to lose all that good mojo," she said.

Her suitcase was lost amid thousands of others stacked near baggage claim. She paid $866 for another ticket home.

"I got an email back from them saying that they're not going to refund my ticket because it wasn't their fault," Cook said.

Cook was one of the millions of passengers who paid high airfares only to face rampant flight delays and cancellations during the peak days of summer travel.

As it happens, the Toronto airport had the worst global on-time record this summer with 51% of flights delayed.

"Flight disruptions really sort of hit a peak in late May, early June. Things got quite bad there at the beginning of the summer, it wasn't just your imagination," Scott Keyes of Scott's Cheap Travel said.

Overall, about one in four flights in the U.S. were delayed, and 55,000 were canceled between May and August.

"That is significantly higher than the sort of historical averages. And I think really kind of underscores just what a difficult time it was for many folks traveling," Keyes said.

Scott Keyes of Scott's Cheap Travel says airlines are struggling to ramp up after the pandemic lull, leading to short staffing of pilots, agents and ground crews.

But hiring over the summer has already helped reduce delays and cancellations. Airlines have dropped thousands of flights rather than stretch the system too thin.

"It's not that there will be no problems or disruptions, but that they should be far fewer, fewer and further between than we had seen over the summer," Keyes said.

Airfares also are dropping. Prices that spiked by 37% over the summer are now down by 40% or more.

"The general rule of thumb is that flights taken after Labor Day tend to be about 50% cheaper than flights taken before Labor Day," 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 dropped by two-thirds, from $1,000 to just $379.

"It's not that every single ticket or every single date is going to be at least half off from where it was in the middle of summer. But certainly, on average, that's the type of reduction you can expect in ticket prices," Keyes said.

But those prices won't last. Keyes says holiday airfares will shoot right back up to summertime rates.

"If you wait to book those winter holiday flights until November, say chances are fares are not only going to not be cheap, they're not even going to be decent, they're going to be very expensive at that point," he said.

Domestic travel is usually most expensive at Thanksgiving since folks stay in the country to visit family. overseas travel is cheaper in late November.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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