Travel and the middle class: how long will travel be sustainable?

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Traveling between states is not easy these days. Gas prices are on the rise. Plane tickets are on the rise. Travel delays and flight cancellations are common.

Still, a lot of people seem to be traveling this summer. But with inflation booming, how long will travel continue to be sustainable for the middle class?

Over the past year or so, the market has seen an increase of about 25% in airline ticket prices and a similar increase in car rentals, says Mark Mills, director of purchasing at Penn Procurement Services. “It’s excessive at the moment. It has an impact on the decision to go or not,” he says.

“While things may be starting to ease, this 25% is a big increase for an already large spend. If we don’t see further easing, more and more consumers will and should be wondering. they want to pay those amounts or find a cheaper alternative,” Mills says.

Summer is the busiest time to travel, says Gad Allon, Jeffrey A. Keswin Professor in the Department of Operations, Information and Decision Making at The Wharton School. “A lot of what we’re seeing now is what some people call ‘revenge trips,'” he says, a backlog of pent-up demand created by the pandemic. Even though prices are rising, demand remains high. The large number of summer travelers is compounded by a general shortage of pilots, a lack of staff to check baggage and long security lines to get to the gates, Allon says.

“It’s an industry we all depend on, but we’re not willing to pay for good service,” Allon says. “We expect to have cheap service, we expect to have service available, and we are not prepared to bear the consequences of the fact that it is simply very difficult to operate an airline.”

Travel accessibility

Megan Ryerson, transportation expert in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the Weitzman School of Design, wants more options. “We need an intercity transportation strategy focused on equitable access,” she says.

In 2018, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that 9.9 million Americans did not live near an airport, intercity bus stop or train station, Ryerson says. Of these 9.9 million, 30% come from very low-income households, 20% are over the age of 65 and 6% do not have access to a car, all factors that can still hinder the ability to move, she says.

Even those who live near a transit terminal may struggle with accessibility due to income, not owning a car or other constraints, Ryerson says. “Although many Philadelphians typically choose to travel by air, car, or train, these options may be out of reach if fares are high and a person does not have access to a car. High fares are a restricted access.”

Historically, aviation was reserved for wealthy people and businesses who could afford the fares. The industry was deregulated in 1978, but today’s skyrocketing airfares could send us back to similar problems, Ryerson says.

“In the 1940s, when President Truman dedicated what is now JFK Airport in New York, he spoke of how aviation connects us as people and promotes peace,” said Ryerson. “People today rely on the aviation system for that connection, to visit family or to take a trip and experience new cultures.”

With rising airfares and cost pressures, more Americans may not be able to have these experiences. “We need to protect people’s ability to travel,” Ryerson said.

Travel inequality

Race and class barriers can also restrict free movement.

“For many years we have been a society where the poorer people are, the more likely they are to be immobile,” says Mia Bay, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History and author of “Traveling”. Black: A story of race and resistance.” “They don’t have cars. They often live in areas where public transport is very limited.” If prices remain high, it will accentuate existing travel inequalities, she says.

“Between the expense and the likelihood of flight cancellations, flying doesn’t sound so great; driving just gets really expensive,” Bay said. There is also the continuing problem of the pandemic. Bay visited Chicago earlier this summer. The plane and the airport were extremely crowded, she said. “It was a zoo beyond normal. I can’t wait to get on the plane again.”

When prices and inflation rise, Allon expects demand to fall, especially as more and more people face overbooked flights. “Ultimately, this will put downward pressure on prices,” he says.

Fuel prices remain high in August, but travel app Hopper predicts ticket prices will drop to an average of $286, 25% lower than ticket prices in May.

“The middle class is a big part of airline demand, so hopefully that will help drive down demand,” Mills said.

Airfares set to keep climbing from pandemic low: experts

Provided by the University of Pennsylvania

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