Dean Headley warns air travelers to book early for the holidays.
Photo: File
Holiday air travel tip -- let the flyer beware
Oct 3, 2013 3:00 PM | Print

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High passenger volumes and the possibility of bad weather are always part of holiday travel. Travelers on U.S. airlines during the days surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas usually find that ticket prices are higher and seats are harder to find. With reduced capacity (fewer seats available) across the industry and increased demand by travelers, booking early is highly recommended, according to Dean Headley, co-author of the national Airline Quality Rating at Wichita State University.

While industry airline performance quality has generally improved each year since 2007, Headley says the travel experience has become more stressful and uncertain, especially around the end-of-the-year holidays.

Headley: "The holiday season in 2013 should be just as busy if not more busy than what we've seen in the past. It will probably be stressful again. Fewer seats are available. Close holiday time this year – Thanksgiving is very close to Christmas this year."

Considering how many people want to travel during the holidays, Headley says it's not too surprising that the airlines face some challenges.

Headley: "When you look at the performance of airlines over the years, the November/December timeframe is always busy, busy. There's no question about it. It is a high stress time and the airlines just do not perform well during those periods -- partly their deal, partly weather."

Following the supply and demand principle, it's easy to see why prices usually are higher for holiday travelers, according to Headley.

Headley: "The total industry system is constricting. There's fewer seats available than there were a year ago. That's partly due to consolidation, partly due to choice. Fewer seats, more demand, they can charge higher prices. The consumer is not being thought of first in this process. It's more about the money.

"When you look at the demand for this, the lower number of seats that are being offered in the marketplace gives the opportunity for the airlines to charge a higher price for the seats that are well demanded. Planes are full. There's no question about that. The more full they are; that makes the price go up."

When it comes to air travel during the holidays, Headley offers this advice: Let the flyer beware.

Headley: "As a flyer, you need to be smart and look out for yourself. Check in early. Leave plenty of time between connecting flights. Don't rely on the airlines necessarily to take good care of you. Be ready to take care of yourself."

Headley offers another bit of advice if you want your luggage or presents to arrive at your destination on time.

Headley: "Make life as simple as you can. Pack light. If you can, ship your bags -- certainly your presents -- ahead of time. It's entirely probable that FedEx or UPS will get them there with not much additional cost, if any, and probably more on time."

According to Headley, airline fees are still a reality, so consumers need to be aware and plan for the added costs that their choices might bring. Unbundled services available a la carte are the new reality.

Thanks for listening. Until next time, this is Joe Kleinsasser for Wichita State University.

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Created on Oct 3, 2013 3:00 PM; Last modified on Nov 12, 2013 12:33 PM
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