[Archive Home][Date Prev][Date Next][Index]
"What's in store for your summer vacation"
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
What's in store for your summer vacation
By Scott McCartney
The Wall Street Journal
This summer vacation season, travelers are likely to face higher air fares,
more-crowded flights and longer security lines at airports.
Just two weeks before Memorial Day, airlines, airports and federal
transportation officials are all grooming for the busiest summer travel
season in five years. Yet security staffing is down at some big airports,
creating fears of long lines at security checkpoints this summer. The
Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport security, has
offered screeners bonuses to stay on the job and is trying to train its own
office workers to be screeners. It is also paying some airports to hire
baggage schleppers to free screeners from the task.
TSA has also shipped extra screeners to the Los Angeles International
Airport to cover a staffing shortage there, and expects that airport to be
close to full staffing by Memorial Day. advertisement
"We are fully aware we are going to have a lot of people traveling" across
the country, said TSA chief Kip Hawley, "and we are gearing up to serve that
Despite the concerns, there will be some bright spots for travelers: Flight
delays will likely be shorter and less frequent this summer. That is because
airlines have cut the number of flights, easing congestion at airports.
Also, the airline industry appears to have made progress fixing some of its
operational problems: cancellations and mishandled baggage reports are down
this year and complaints are lower as well.
But don't expect much elbow room onboard. Planes will be full: Already in
April, airlines filled 81.8 percent of their domestic seats, up from 77.6
percent last year. That's six more middle seats occupied on a 150-passenger
airplane, on average. Airlines have cut domestic capacity, even as demand
for travel has increased, so they can push prices higher and try to cover
rapidly escalating fuel costs. Through the first three months of this year,
there were 2.3 percent fewer commercial flights, according to the Bureau of
Transportation Statistics, and American Express Publishing Corp. says flight
schedules show a 4 percent drop this summer.
Full flights mean that travelers have a greater risk of being bumped. The
number of passengers involuntarily bumped from oversold flights is already
climbing since planes are so full, up 27 percent in the first three months
of this year, according to the Department of Transportation.
Prices are also rising. Fares for summer tickets already purchased are up
about 10 percent over last summer, according to both Orbitz and Travelocity,
two of the three big online ticket-sellers. The Air Transport Association
says average fares were up 10.6 percent in March. Still, prices were higher
in 2000 and 2001, and considering the cost of driving cars this year, travel
experts say airline tickets are still a bargain.
"People are resilient. They are going to take vacations, even if the price
is higher," says Mitch Truwit, chief executive of global online travel at
Cendant Corp., which owns Orbitz.com and Cheaptickets.com.
Some routes have seen a near doubling of prices. A round-trip leisure ticket
bought in advance with restrictions between Washington and San Francisco,
for example, cost $492 last week, almost twice one year ago of $248,
according to Harrell Associates Inc. The cheapest Detroit-Tampa fare jumped
to $288 round-trip from $148; Atlanta-Philadelphia round-trips jumped 78
percent to $282 from $158 last year, according to the fare-tracking firm.
Higher prices at a time airlines are still aggressively cutting services and
adding fees may help the industry get back to profitability - airlines still
tallied huge losses in the first quarter because of higher oil prices. But
the double-whammy for customers already weary of several years of airline
bankruptcy and labor troubles weakened customer satisfaction for airlines in
the first three months of this year, according to the latest University of
Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index, to be released Tuesday.
"Consumers feel they are getting less for their money," said Claes Fornell,
head of the survey.
Travel experts say if you haven't already bought your airline tickets for
this summer, do it now. Prices will likely only rise further as seats sell
One way to beat higher prices is to choose some of the few domestic and
international destinations where more planes have been added. Continental
Airlines added flights from Newark, N.J., to Cologne, Germany, this summer,
and a coach ticket priced Monday for a June 17-24 itinerary was $1,149
round-trip. That's much cheaper than a Newark-Frankfurt ticket on
Continental for the same dates, priced Monday at $1,468. Domestically,
Travelocity says the average price of tickets already purchased to Aspen,
Colo., is actually 2.5 percent cheaper than last year because more airlines
have added Aspen flights to their summer schedules.
The reduced number of domestic flights is yielding one upside for travelers:
Because there is less congestion at airports, delays may actually be shorter
and less frequent than last year. In the first quarter of this year, 23.2
percent of airline flights arrived more than 15 minutes later, according to
DOT, better than the 24.7 percent of flights late last year.
The industry has also had some success in reducing the number of some travel
hassles. In March, flight cancellations were at a three-year low. And
complaints from customers were down 19 percent in the first three months of
the year. Even TSA screener complaints were down in March to 758 compared to
896 last year. Damage claims made to TSA were also down.
Lost baggage is lower, too, according to DOT. Mishandled bags per passenger
fell nearly 9 percent in their first three months of this year, even though
airlines are handling more passengers and more bags. Your odds of a
mishandled bag: One in every 160 passengers reported a mishandled bag so far
Still, some cities are bracing for expected long security lines. Local
politicians are jumping into the fray. U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, a California
Democrat, wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff earlier this
month threatening to show up at LAX herself to help move bags, presumably
with TV cameras in tow, if the TSA doesn't fix a staffing shortage at the
Los Angeles airport by Memorial Day. U.S. Rep. John Mica, (R., Fla.), has
warned of a "baggage meltdown" this summer because of TSA problems.
Do you have an opinion about this story?
Share it with other readers in our CAA Discussion Forums
Fair Use Notice
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
If you have any queries regarding this issue, please Email us at email@example.com