Storm adds uncertainty to strong holiday travel demand
Concerns over illness or inflation won’t stop Americans from traveling this holiday season. A massive winter storm could.
Forecasters foresee a deluge of heavy snow, flooding, and even tornadoes between Thursday and Saturday across a large portion of the country, including the Plains, Midwest, and East Coast. An Arctic air surge will follow. This Christmas weekend could be the coldest since decades.
An early sign that trouble was coming was Tuesday in Seattle, where a snowstorm caused at least 192 flight cancellations. According to FlightAware’s tracking service, this was the first sign of trouble. Greyhound also cancelled bus service between Seattle-Spokane.
Airlines gave travelers the option to choose new flights to avoid bad weather. American, Southwest, and Delta waived any change fees at affected airports.
The Transportation Safety Administration expected Dec. 22 and Dec. 30 to be the busiest days at U.S. airports, with traffic expected to be close to pre-pandemic levels.
Airports stated that they would do everything possible to keep their doors 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 created uncertainty in what was already a busy season for travel. Earlier this month, AAA estimated that nearly 113 million people would travel 50 miles from home or more between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. This is 4% more than last year but still far below the 119million mark in 2019..
Most people plan to travel by car. AAA estimates that about 6% will travel by plane. Many travelers may have to alter their plans in order to make it work.
Joel Lustre originally planned on driving from Bloomington, Indiana to McGregor (Iowa) on Thursday. He changed his work schedule and his wife cancelled an appointment to allow them to leave Wednesday before the storm.
Kurt Ebenhoch, a consumer travel advocate and former airline executive, said the fee waivers for inclement weather that airlines began offering about 20 years ago give consumers valuable time ahead of a storm to figure out alternate days and routes. But consumers should carefully read the fine print. Delta, for example, is currently waiving any difference in fares for rebooked travel that happens before Dec. 25 for flights out of the Pacific Northwest. But if the flights are rebooked to a date after Dec. 25, passengers may have to pay the fare difference.
Ebenhoch stated that passengers have the right of asking the airline to book them on another airline’s flight if they don’t have any other options. Consumers have the right to a full refund if the airline cancels a flight. This applies to all future travel. The desire to travel and spend time with family and friends during the holidays seems to outweigh any concerns about illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said coronavirus cases and deaths have increased in recent weeks, and the trio of COVID-19, seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continues to stress the health care system.
William Karr traveled Monday from Los Angeles, California to Minneapolis, where he was to meet his sister and drive to Iowa. Karr stated that he would wear a mask to avoid getting sick during the holidays. However, he has also taken other flights without masks.
” I think the precautions kind of go out of the window at some point, and people will catch COVID if they can be home with their family,” Karr stated.
Inflation didn’t seem like it was reducing holiday travel demand. The average round-trip airfare rose 22% to $397 in the second quarter of this year — the most recent period available — according to U.S. government data. This was higher than the overall U.S. inflation of 9%, which peaked in June at 9%.
Stacie seal was flying Monday from Los Angeles, California to her home in Boise Idaho. She said that her family had chosen to visit Disneyland with two companion tickets. These companion tickets can be earned through airline credit cards.
“If the tickets were to be purchased without a companion fare I would probably pause and consider the price.” she said.
Lindsey Roeschke is a travel and hospitality analyst at Morning Consult. She said that travelers are cutting back in other areas.
In a recent survey, Morning Consult found that 28% of U.S. travelers were planning a one-day trip for the holidays, up from 14% last year. The number of people who plan to stay with family or friends rather than at hotels has also increased. Roeschke believes that higher prices are a factor.
“Inflation still plays a role,” Roeschke stated. “It’s not keeping people from traveling, but it’s maybe shifting the way they actually travel.”
Associated Press News Associate Amancai Biraben contributed from Los Angeles.
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