High gas prices, crowded airports could impact holiday travel plans

BOSTON — Packed airports and pricey gas are two current trends that could impact holiday travel plans.

Last year at this time, many people wondered if they could safely gather with their extended family as the coronavirus raged unchecked.

This year, they’re trying to figure out if they can even afford to get there.

Just look at what’s been happening with the price of gas. “We’re actually about $1.20 higher than we were last year in Massachusetts, and the average driver is now paying about $17 more per fill-up per tank,” explained Mary Maguire, Director of Public and Legislative Affairs for AAA-Northeast.

That spike in gas prices comes just as Americans are thinking about their plans for the holidays.

According to the PwC Holiday Outlook 2021, 72% say they plan to drive to their destination.

40% say they will fly, while 13% will board a bus.

The numbers exceed 100% because many trips use multiple forms of transportation.

Higher gas prices, at least at their current levels, aren’t expected to keep people home this year.

“I think people will grin and bear it and go,” Maguire said. “I mean, frankly, I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand for people who want to travel.”

Maguire added that drivers can help themselves save money at the pump with some simple measures, like making sure to buy regular gas.

Going a little bit slower increases fuel efficiency. Making sure tires are properly inflated will “improve fuel efficiency by 3-4%,” according to Maguire.

She also says it’s worth comparing prices as it’s not hard to find a service station that might be a little less expensive. She suggests using free apps.

Taking to the sky to avoid the roads could raise its own issues this year.

The Southwest Airlines meltdown early last month stranded thousands as hundreds of flights were abruptly canceled.

Some airports, like Denver, have been overwhelmed with crowds this fall.

All this is having a chilling effect on some travelers at Logan Airport.

One woman said she was concerned about flying because of what happened with Southwest.

Another woman said, “We don’t plan on traveling over the holidays, we’re taking that into account.”

Patrick Gourley, Ph.D., a professor of economics at the University of New Haven who follows the aviation industry, said he sees ticket costs going up.

Gourley has a strategy to make sure he gets the date he wants at the best price. “One thing you can always do is, depending on the terms and conditions, is book a refundable ticket now, and then once it gets closer to the flight, just cancel the refundable ticket and book the cheaper non-refundable one.”

Overall, Gourley says it’s a good sign that Southwest’s problems didn’t spread to other carriers. “I don’t think it’s going to be widespread. I think the airlines have plans in place. They know travel is going to pick up over the holidays and they’ve been doing this for years.

One man traveling at Logan told us he’s most concerned about the way passengers are behaving these days. He hopes they remember the spirit of the holidays and don’t make a bad situation worse.

“They need to be tolerant. They shouldn’t throw coffee into somebody’s face.”

Gourley pointed out the holidays aren’t actually the busiest time of year for the airlines. That occurs in the summer.

He says it can seem more hectic now because a lot of families are flying with children and there are more people who don’t tend to fly as often. These groups don’t move as efficiently as business travelers.

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