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Summer Travel Forecast: Could Gas Prices Spike Airfares?

Wondering how hectic the high season of summer travel will make the skies? Summer air travel will raise 3.7 percent above last year’s summer travel figure to set another all-time record, Airlines for America announced, with the U.S. expected to see an average of  2.68 million air travelers per day.

The summer travel increase will be seen just about everywhere. So what does that mean for airfare pricing and on-time arrivals?

The main cloud on the horizon is the possibility of increased airfare thanks to gas prices. Fuel has gotten a lot more expensive over last year, and airlines will be strongly tempted to cover those increases by upping their prices.

The capacity to accommodate the summer travel demand will be developed through new routes and additional frequencies on existing routes, and helped by a steady stream of new airplane deliveries, especially the 737 and A320 family models that operate the bulk of domestic flights.

But another potential problem is ongoing difficulty with engines that power several popular commercial plane models. The recent Southwest engine failure requires increased inspections of the CFM engines that power many 737 models, and ongoing problems with engines that power some 320 and 321 neos are delaying deliveries. Trent engines on the 787 are also causing problems, requiring that some planes be grounded and some long-distance flights to take longer routes.

The airlines most heavily hit by engine issues recently include All Nippon Airways, British Airways, Air New Zealand, Norwegian Air, and Virgin Atlantic. Several of these lines are leasing other planes to cover canceled flights. Fortunately, very few, if any, domestic U.S. flights will be affected by the issue.

Airlines for America hopes to continue some key gains from this year’s first quarter of operations: the lowest-ever rate of involuntary bumpings, plus slight improvements in on-time arrival rate and mishandled baggage.

Overall, your biggest worry should be increased fares—most notably, fewer seats at the lowest-advertised prices. And frequent flyer seats, as always, will be scarce on popular long-haul routes.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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