Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Air travel to get more expensive, professor predicts

Travelers planning to take to the air this holiday season can expect more of the same woes troubling the airline industry all year: long lines at security, fickle weather and crowded planes.

But they should be thankful. Next time, the trip will be just as difficult, and it’ll probably cost more to boot, says DU professor Andrew Goetz. 

Goetz, a professor of urban and economic geography and a member of DU’s Intermodal Transportation Institute, says years of artificially discounted ticket prices in the airline industry are coming to an abrupt end. 

Increasing demand — expected at 5 percent a year by airplane manufacturers — rising jet fuel prices and talk of consolidation among the industry’s biggest carriers will ground those discounted fares.

“That’s obviously not good news for the traveling public,” Goetz says. “Fuel prices and the possibilities of mergers are bad news for fliers. If you want to go somewhere and fly, it might not be a bad idea to get it done in the next couple of years. Those prices will just keep going up.”

As for the looming Thanksgiving weekend, the airlines’ leading industry association, the Air Transport Association of America, predicts a 4 percent increase in passengers over last year and says planes will be 90 percent full. If there’s an unexpected weather event that cancels flights, there are few open seats on later flights to accommodate those left behind. 

The country’s largest leisure travel group, AAA, reports nearly 5 million Americans will fly this holiday weekend and more than 31 million more will travel at least 50 miles by car. 

In a country that continues to see increases in air travel, Denver International Airport is the last major airport constructed, and that was more than a decade ago. Before that, the Dallas-Fort Worth airport was the last, when it opened in the early 1970s. The real solution, Goetz says, is expanding facilities, opening new airports and replacing aging radar tracking high-tech air traffic management systems.

With forecasters calling for snow at DIA during the Thanksgiving travel period this year, Goetz says passengers will be at the mercy of the weather. Tickets are booked, and there is little they can do.

But Goetz, who co-authored a book on DIA (Denver International Airport: Lessons Learned, McGraw-Hill, 1997) says he expects airport officials and city public works crews to do a better job this year than they did last year, when snow closed the airport for 72 hours over the Christmas travel season.

“It’s a very sensitive issue now, after last year,” he says. “I think they’re going to be right on top of this.”

If You Go

With experts expecting packed planes and jammed highways this holiday season, there are a few things travelers can do to improve their chances of making it over the river and through the woods.

Know the Rules: Learn ahead of time how to pack to meet safety restrictions imposed since 9/11. That means learning about how to pack liquids in carry-on bags, and be ready for security checkpoints by having identification, boarding passes and luggage ready for inspection.

Be Patient: Arrive at the airport early and expect delays. 

Budget Accordingly: Gas prices are on the rise. AAA says that won’t deter motorists from hitting the highway, but many are planning ahead by hunting for lower-priced motels and restaurants to make up the difference.

Drive Defensively: Crowded roads mean a greater chance for accidents. Maintain vehicles properly for highway travel, check tire pressure, wear seat belts and maintain a proper distance between vehicles. Accidents can happen to anyone. AAA says statistics show that in a study of fatal accidents, 85 percent of the drivers involved had never been in a crash before, and nearly 60 percent had never even gotten a ticket.

Sources: AAA,
Transportation Safety Administration,

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