RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia residents looking to travel this summer season are facing the impacts of record-breaking gas prices on airfare and road trips.
An April poll by AAA Travel found that 32% of residents in the Commonwealth who were surveyed said they are planning to travel more this summer than last summer. This is happening despite the national average price for a gallon of regular gas reaching $5 on Thursday, the highest its ever been.
The AAA poll showed that more than 40% of Virginians said gas prices were not even a consideration in their travel planning. But, nearly 45% said they were taking fewer or shorter trips because of the prices at the pump.
“We have not seen a significant drop in people driving,” Ragina Ali with AAA said. “We do believe that people are possibly adjusting their driving behaviors to some extent.”
For the nearly 25% of Virginia residents who said they would be staying home or were unsure about summer travel plans at the time, almost half of them cited gas prices as the biggest factor influencing that decision, according to a release.
“The results of this new AAA Travel poll indicate that COVID concerns have eased dramatically and the majority of Virginia residents are making plans to get away despite gas prices,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Morgan Dean said. “While domestic travel will dominate, it is interesting to note the number of people making plans to travel internationally as well. That’s something we have not seen since 2019.”
However, in making longer trips, residents will have to consider the rising fuel costs that airlines are also facing.
“We’ve raised our fares. Fares would be a lot cheaper if it wasn’t for fuel, where it’s at today,” Breeze Airways CEO David Neeleman said. “If the price of fuel doubled, then we have to charge about $5 per hour of flight. So if you’re going out of San Francisco and it’s a five-hour flight, we have to get at least $25 to $40 each way to cover the fuel price.”
That’s part of the reason why airlines like Breeze said they are looking at more fuel-efficient aircraft options.
“The A220, being a clean sheet design, incorporates a lot of new technology. All this technology helps to ensure that the operating economics of the aircraft are significantly reduced,” Airbus North America Airline Marketing Vice President Matthew Saks said. “For example, it incorporates 40% lightweight material […which] will be able to burn less fuel.”
Breeze Airways is just one of eight major carriers that flies out of Richmond International Airport (RIC).
A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, which also provides service to and from RIC, said that the company has fuel hedges in place to help mitigate fluctuations in the energy market.
“The current energy-price environment is exactly why we have a systematic hedging program — to provide insurance in the near-term, particularly over the timeframe of our published schedule,” a spokesperson said. “We also have firm orders for more than 400 new, more fuel-efficient 737 MAX aircraft slated for delivery over the next decade.”
The spokesperson also said that they could not speculate on future ticket pricing. But CEO Bob Jordan commented on the impacts of rising fuel prices at the end of April in a report on the company’s first quarter 2022 financial results.
“While we are experiencing inflationary pressure from higher jet fuel prices, our fuel hedge is providing significant protection against rising oil prices,” he said. “As we focus on the basics, our priorities for 2022 are clear: getting properly staffed and returning to historic operational reliability; restoring our customer service advantage; growing our fleet with The Boeing Company’s (Boeing) most-modern, fuel-efficient 737 aircraft; adding flights and restoring our network, especially on shorter-haul business routes; investing in enabling technologies for enhanced efficiencies; and producing consistent quarterly profits.”
Ali said that whether driving or planning to fly, rising fuel prices — never before seen this high — are going to impact costs. But travel choices may be impacted by the number of people involved.
“For instance, if it’s just my husband and I traveling, it may be cheaper for us to actually fly to a location, whereas if we’re traveling with our kids or family, it may make better sense to drive to offset multiple ticket prices,” she said. “They may still want to travel, but say they may stay at a cheaper hotel or they may opt to stay with family and friends.”