Soaring Airfares Shock Travelers After Pandemic Bargains

After two years of a pandemic, all they wanted to do was take their long-delayed trips. Then flight prices surged.

The much-awaited easing of Covid cases and restrictions is coinciding with a jump in jet-fuel costs, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the U.S. to ban imports of Russian crude and pushed oil prices as high as $130 a barrel. That, plus higher demand for trips, means airline-ticket costs are increasing for consumers, many of whom are already facing higher prices in areas like groceries, gas and rent payments.

And since some airlines lock in the price of jet fuel months in advance, experts say the worst may be yet to come.

Being able to purchase affordable plane tickets is hardly a matter of life and death. But how consumers respond to the hikes does have significant implications for the economy and could imperil the travel industry, which is still recovering from the pandemic’s precipitous drop in demand. Paying more for big-ticket items like plane trips also has an outsized impact on the wallets of everyday people.

Katie Heubner, a 44-year-old teacher in Iowa, was shocked at the cost of rebooking a European vacation originally scheduled for 2020. In celebration of her 25th wedding anniversary and her parents’ 50th anniversary, a group of seven family members initially planned to fly business class to Barcelona — costing about $15,000 — and then embark on a cruise.

After having to reschedule several times due to Covid outbreaks, Heubner needed to use her voucher for her flights before it expired. The cost now for the Barcelona flights on Lufthansa? The entire voucher, plus $9,000 extra per ticket.