Vancouverites hoping for a cheap flight over the holiday season might be in for a shock.
While ticket prices typically drop at the start of the school year, this year's market has not eased up. Instead, prices are projected to remain steady during the shoulder season — and this is bad news for folks hoping to score a sweet deal on airfare.
Following two years of pandemic-related restrictions, travellers were eager to book flights over the summer. As of April 1, fully vaccinated Canadians returning to the country no longer needed to provide a negative result from a PCR test. As a result, the number of return air trips by Canadian residents rose steeply from 23,600 in April 2021 to 611,500 in April 2022, according to data from Statistics Canada.
By June, major Canadian airlines carried six million passengers for the first time since February 2020. This was over seven times the number of passengers in June 2021. Travellers experienced massive delays over the Canada Day long weekend, with Canadian airlines and airports claiming top spots in global flight delays, according to international flight tracker FlightAware.
But demand for air travel hasn't slowed down — despite numerous delays and cancellations, as well as increasing ticket prices.
Flight prices increase across North America
South of the border, airline fares have risen significantly, up 43 per cent compared to the same period one year ago, according to the U.S. Government’s Labor Department Consumer Price Index. This figure is up from 33 per cent from the previous month, too.
FlightAware spokesperson and aerospace expert Kathleen Bangs told Vancouver Is Awesome that prices aren't expected to slow down heading into the holiday season, either.
"Airfares have risen so high so fast, in part, because they were kept artificially low during the pandemic to incentivize the populace to fly. But with one of all airline’s major expenses, jet fuel, having prices significantly higher than pre-pandemic, and capacity cut (fewer seats available), it’s expected that prices will stay elevated. Bookings have remained strong going into [the] fall, and that means prices that are already high for the Christmas holiday, will probably remain elevated," she explained.
With high inflation and rising interest rates, however, there could be a "cooling off" of traveller activity. While the summer months saw a spike in air travel, the holiday season comes with extra expenses and people could be inclined to scale back on travel.
"That’s the only foreseeable thing that could bring prices down – some slack in demand. But right now demand is high," she said.
While there were some good fares available for the fall, prices for holiday travel are already climbing. Part of this has to do with the steady flow of travellers through the shoulder season.
Flight cancellations and delays have also improved significantly, which is encouraging for travellers.
Flight delays decrease heading into the fall at YVR
At Vancouver International Airport (YVR), nearly 30 per cent (29.3) of flights were delayed in July and 0.6 per cent were cancelled. These figures dropped the following month, with just over a quarter of flights (25.9) delayed in August and 0.3 per cent of flights cancelled, according to data FlightAware prepared for V.I.A.
While flight cancellations didn't slow down at Vancouver's airport in September, delays continued to drop. A total of 21.7 per cent of flights were delayed and 0.5 per cent were cancelled.
As of Oct. 15, delays and cancellations have improved month-over-month. A total of 18 per cent of flights have been delayed and only 0.2 per cent have been cancelled.
Unfortunately, air passengers face tempestuous weather conditions over the holiday season, with blizzards and other poor conditions prompting delays and cancellations.
Travellers should check weather conditions several days in advance of their flight. But they shouldn't only check the weather in their departure city and destination. Instead, they should look at the weather across North America, as it has an impact on the network, Bangs advises.
If possible, booking a backup flight provides an option during peak travel times when cancellations are likely. Depending on the fare class that you book, you can cancel the backup flight if needed and use the credit for future travel.
YVR expects an increase in passengers this holiday season in December and advises passengers to arrive early for flights, the airport told V.I.A. in a statement.
Travellers should arrive two hours ahead of scheduled domestic flights and three hours ahead of U.S. and international flights.
Air passengers travelling from YVR to the United States may now reserve a place in line at security screening. Find out more information on how to use the YVR Express Program.