4th of July ‘revenge travel’: Airports, roads will be busy despite high prices

Ongoing record high prices for travel, alongside an airline industry that’s been pummeled by staffing shortages and resultant mass flight cancellations, doesn’t appear to be having much impact on a 4th of July long weekend that will see huge numbers on the roads and in the air in the coming days.

AAA estimates travel for the 2022 Independence Day holiday will reach 98% of pre-pandemic levels. And, even as the average price of gas in the US is about $2 more per gallon than it was this time last year, 42 million Americans will travel by car, setting a new record for road trips. And, air travel over the holiday will outpace last year, with AAA estimating some 3.55 million US passengers will fly to their holiday destinations.

“We started seeing demand for travel grow earlier this year and it isn’t tapering off,” said Rolando Flores, senior vice president of membership and travel for AAA Utah, in a statement. “Even though things are more expensive, people want to travel and they are finding ways to still take that much-needed break.”

While the average price of a gallon of gas across the US has tapered off a bit after passing the $5 per gallon mark last month, Utah hit another all-time record on Friday, with the average price for a gallon of gas across the state coming in at $5.26, according to AAA.

Traffic moves along I-15 during rush hour in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

A wave of flight cancellations. Even ahead of the busy holiday travel weekend, airlines have canceled 15% of scheduled summer flights due to staffing shortages and other operational issues, according to Forbes.

Unfortunately, experts see more of the same on the horizon.

“Looking at the past few weeks, I don’t think there’s any reason to think that things are going to go especially smoothly this weekend,” Scott Keyes, co-founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, an airfare deals newsletter with more than 2 million subscribers, told Forbes.

“With 11 million travelers expected to fly over July Fourth, we are expecting a busy holiday weekend and travelers should be prepared for potential disruptions,” says Hayley Berg, chief economist at Hopper, the deal-finding site and app that made the Forbes Fintech 50 this year. “Eleven percent more flights are being disrupted this June than at the same time in 2019.”

Delta Air Lines is going so far as to allow fliers to preemptively bail on their weekend plans and skip the airport altogether. The carrier is letting passengers change their tickets for free and avoid paying any fare difference during the “potentially challenging weekend travel days.”

What’s behind the airline mess? Massive cutbacks were made as the COVID-19 pandemic brought air travel to a near standstill. A faster-than-expected recovery, thanks to consumers unleashing pent-up demand and indulging their urge for “revenge travel,” caught most carriers flat-footed on staffing issues and they’re collectively still trying to catch up. And, current employees, including members of pilots unions, are fed up with overtime and pay rates and some have taken to the picket lines to advocate for better conditions.

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Delta jets are parked at their gates at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2022.

Spencer Heaps, Deseret News

Up, up and away. Rampant inflation has been driving up the cost of consumer goods and services for months and the last federal report pegged those price increases at more than 8%, on average, over the same time last year.

But costs in some categories have jumped much more than that, including the price of flying.

In the last year, the consumer price index for airline tickets has shot up by 25% — the largest jump since the Federal Reserve of St. Louis began tracking the index in 1989, according to CNBC. In April alone, airfares spiked 18.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Regardless of soaring prices, Americans aren’t hesitating to break out their credit cards and book a trip, per CNBC. A recent Bank of America Institute survey showed spending at airlines and travel agencies is up a whopping 60% year-over-year. At the same time, as Americans continue to grapple with 40-year high inflation rates and resource-strapped airlines work to get more planes in the air, traveling on a budget seems to be nearly impossible.

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Travelers move through the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2022.

Spencer Heaps, Deseret News

Busy means plan ahead. Salt Lake City International Airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said the facility is expecting a very busy weekend and estimates some 27,000 travelers will come through the door on Friday alone, with connecting and arrival volumes adding even more to the mix.

Volmer said passengers and those picking up friends and family members at the airport should verify flight times before they head out. And, for travelers, Volmer said allowing plenty of time to navigate the crowds means arriving two hours ahead of departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international travel.

For those who have yet to experience the new terminal at the airport, a handy map of the revamped facility can be found at slcairport.com/maps/airport-map.

And, to make things even easier, Volmer suggests travelers download the “SLC International” app, available for Android and Apple devices. The app, Volmer said, includes a real-time navigation tool to help get around the new facility.

For those whose 4th of July plans include travel by road in the Beehive State, the Utah Department of Transportation reminds drivers to plan for some delays around active construction sites that include work on I-15, I-80, I-215 and US- 40. A complete list of projects and estimates on delay times can be found at udottraffic.utah.gov.

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Traffic moves along I-15 during rush hour in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

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