Why DC-area travelers have a better shot at cheap airfares

A woman wearing a mask walks through a terminal at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)(AP/Andrew Harnik)
With COVID vaccines now rolling out, airlines expect a spike in summer travel this year, with customers feeling safer flying. The pent-up demand for a vacation is there.

“If there’s one thing I hear over and over from people I talk to, is that they cannot wait to get out and travel again once they feel it is safe,” said Scott Keyes, founder of airfare comparison and travel information site Scott’s Cheap Flights.

If you are anxious for a big summer trip, now is the time to start planning — even if you’re not yet ready or can’t go where you’d like, if getting a good airfare is a priority.

“Right now, it is true that you cannot visit Europe, and you probably haven’t been vaccinated,” Keyes said.

“But if you wait to book your flights until both of those things are no longer true, chances are it will be too late to get a cheap flight for this summer. Millions of other people are also going to be looking for fares by then. We are encouraging folks who want to travel for summer, lock in fares now.”

Airlines are still waiving most cancellations and change fees through at least March, even for travel booked this summer.

D.C.-area travelers are more fortunate than those in some other big cities. We have three airports to choose from.

“By far, the number one determinate of how many cheap flights there are in a city is just how much competition there is among airlines. When you have three airports rather than one, like there is in Atlanta, you have way more flights coming in and competing with each other,” Keyes said.

“I think Washington, D.C., is actually in a fortunate position. It is blessed to be one of the best cities in the country for cheap flights.”

Keyes expects airlines to be prepared for the increase in travel this summer, though it may take some time to bring back furloughed pilots, flight attendants and other employees. Airlines have parked thousands of out-of-service planes in deserts in Arizona and California, but they are getting required routine maintenance and should be flight-ready.

The spike in travel will be welcomed by the airline industry.

Despite a jump in air travel over the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays in 2020, U.S. domestic air travel was down 61% from a year ago in November, according to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. International travel on U.S. carriers was down 70%.

U.S. airlines reported 27 million originating passengers in the third quarter of last year, down from 86 million passengers a year earlier.

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Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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