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Summer Vacation

Vacationers Head Back to the Skies, and So Do Airfares

Fewer routes, surging demand, and higher fuel costs add up to some serious sticker shock for flyers.

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Illustration: Jordan Speer for Bloomberg Businessweek

The mid-pandemic days of empty airplanes are long gone, and in their place are sky-high fares and overcrowded (maskless) flights. The top 11 US airlines will fly 12% fewer summer flights, according to data tracker Cirium, primarily because of a lack of pilots; jet fuel costs have soared; and US leisure destinations are proving to be the most sought-after spots on Earth. All of this translates to far more air travelers than there are airplane seats—a mismatch that’s sent summer fares for domestic travel up 25% from pre-Covid levels and 50% higher than last year, according to travel search engine Hopper Inc.

In April, domestic fares climbed 18.6%, the biggest monthly increase since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the numbers in 1963. According to AAA, that rise has brought the average domestic ticket price up $160, to $445. Data from booking engine Skyscanner show similar increases on long-haul international routes; prices have risen 20% since 2019, to an average of $797.