Image: Tough times ahead
Joshua Lott  /  Reuters file
A number of factors are expected to make summer travel extremely difficult for air travelers. Consider yourself warned.
By
Aviation.com
updated 3/24/2008 6:37:36 PM ET 2008-03-24T22:37:36

Get ready. It’s going to be a long, hot, miserable summer in the air this year.

An unusual combination of factors will turn up the heat on air travelers this summer, especially on U.S. domestic routes: Airline flight reductions, airline staff reductions, new fees for checking bags and getting extra leg room, and record-high fuel prices are chief among them.

Travelers will have to be especially flexible, be prepared to move very fast on booking and consider hooking up with a good travel agent to help get through this summer with a minimum of fuss.

Even then, putting it candidly, it won’t be easy and it definitely won’t be pretty. Airline staff and route cutbacks mean we should expect spottier customer service from undermanned and demoralized airline staffs, fewer choices of flights, even-more-crowded planes and — yes — higher fares than we are used to seeing in the peak summer travel season.

That’s not to say there will be no fare sales. But they will be less numerous and price reductions will be more shallow than usual. The main reason? Airlines are paying an average of about $3.50 a gallon for jet fuel this month; last March, they paid $1.85, barely half as much. Financially strapped U.S. airlines have to pass this expense along to consumers — fuel now costs them more than labor and aircraft — and indeed they are doing so.

Moreover, travel deals in the coming months will come with more restrictions than usual, especially tighter time frames for buying and using a ticket. As always, read the fine print.

Airlines’ own Web sites often have the best deals. Check them frequently, possibly daily. Same goes for online travel services such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Farecompare.com.

The airlines want you to do this spadework yourself, which is why they drive customer traffic to the Web and charge you extra for calling a reservationist. For many of us, that’s fine: We’re symbiotically attached to our laptops, cell phones and PDAs. If you don’t have the time, expertise or patience to do it yourself, call a travel agent.

A few more tips:

Fly at mid-week; airlines have more seat availability then.

If you must book for early or mid-summer, look for deals now, but expect many popular destinations and flights to be sold out.

In July, airlines announce quick sales for the end of summer; travel then instead.

If you don’t mind adding one more piece of plastic to your wallet, there may be a deal. For example, British Airways announced on Thursday a buy-one, get-one-free ticket sale that offers coach fares of $756 each way between Los Angeles and London if you get a British Airways Visa Signature card. The catch: You have to apply by April 30 and fly mid-week by May 25. Right that’s spring travel – expect more offers like this for summertime, too.

© 2013 Imaginova Corp.

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