Airline tickets soared this holiday season after a year of shutdowns and travel restrictions due to COVID-19.
Those heading to other parts of the country, including Arizona State University students returning home, are paying the price.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused close to three in 10 Americans to opt out of holiday travel during 2020, according to the 2021 Holiday Travel Report for NerdWallet.
With life slowly returning to normal, Americans are again booking flights for this year’s holiday season. The number of holiday travelers this year is in close competition with the record-breaking holiday travel in 2019.
Leading up to this year’s Thanksgiving, the Transportation Security Administration expects nearly 1.9 million throughput travelers daily, which is about 75% of the 2019 Thanksgiving passenger levels of 2.5 million travelers per day. In 2020, TSA passenger levels were only about 900,000 travelers throughput per day leading up to Thanksgiving, according to the 2021 Hopper Travel Guide Report.
For Thanksgiving, the expected national airfare ticket for travelers is about $300 round trip, a 23% increase compared with 2020 when airline tickets averaged around $245 round trip. In 2019, Thanksgiving airline tickets were priced at an average of $335, which is 11% higher than this year, according to the 2021 Hopper Travel Guide Report.
ASU Communications student Kayla Popkin, who is from New York City, plans to visit home for both Thanksgiving and ASU’s winter break. For Thanksgiving travel, Popkin decided to take United Airlines from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which cost her $769 round trip.
“This is the most expensive flight home I have ever had. Usually it only costs $250-$300,” Popkin said. “I am overly excited to go home and see my family for the first time since summer, but it is crazy that I had to spend almost $800 for five days at home.”
Popkin wasn’t alone. Other students traveling reported much higher ticket prices.
“My Thanksgiving flight home to Orange County from Phoenix is $430 total, and there were a lot less flight options available to me,” ASU Nursing student Ariana Santulis said. “I am not very happy about the price of my plane tickets since I am a college student trying to save as much money as possible, which is why I decided to drive home for winter break this year instead of paying for another $400 round trip ticket to Orange County and back.”
Airlines price tickets to maximize their total revenue. While airlines do not make their price determination algorithms public, factors include an individual’s class choice, the length of time the tickets were bought in advance, ticket sale demand, the length of the flight, and fuel and oil prices, according to Simple Flying.
After the lack of travelers during the COVID-19, airlines are compensating for the total revenue lost, which is why some individuals may see high travel prices this holiday season, according to Simple Flying.
Last month, Southwest Airlines experienced more than 2,000 flight cancellations due to staffing shortages. For the upcoming holiday season, Southwest Airlines offered its flight attendants, pilots, and other operation employees new incentives to bypass possible flight cancellations again during this upcoming busy season. These employees and staff members could receive up to 120,000 Rapid Rewards points, which is equivalent to $1,400 in airline tickets, according to CNBC and an internal memo.
“The airline is also offering as much as triple pay to ground operations employees for working Thanksgiving and Christmas and double pay for overtime shifts between Nov. 17 through Nov. 30, and Dec. 17 through Jan. 3, up from time-and-a-half pay,” CNBC reported.
Phoenix is the third-most booked domestic destination for Thanksgiving travel after Orlando, Florida, and Atlanta, according to the 2021 Hopper Travel Guide.
For this holiday season, a round-trip airfare ticket to Phoenix averages at $294. This price is a 6% decrease from 2019; however, the price is a 36% increase from 2020, according to the 2021 Hopper Travel Guide Report.
“We have been seeing passenger traffic increase to numbers very close to our record-breaking year of 2019,” said Gregory E. Roybal, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Public Relations Officer. “Thanksgiving travel is historically our busiest period, so we expect to see high passenger traffic comparable to pre-pandemic levels.”
“I am lucky enough to be in a position to afford this price, but nonetheless, it is something I feel guilty knowing that others cannot go home for Thanksgiving break due to the price,” Popkin said.
Paige Galey is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
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