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Chicago residents heading out of town for spring break might be in for busy airports, as pent-up demand drives more travel.
Airlines have scheduled 41% more space on flights out of Chicago’s airports during March and April this year than in 2021. They are still scheduling fewer seats than before the pandemic, but are edging closer to 2019 levels, according to information from aviation data company Cirium.
United Airlines said it expected the number of passengers flying to approach 2019 levels during the spring break season, with more than 18 million people expected to fly with the carrier. O’Hare International Airport was expected to be among the airline’s busiest airports, United executives said in a statement.
And nationwide, bookings for flights, tours, car rentals and hotels for warm-weather places this spring were higher than in 2019, according to AAA.
“People taking tropical and beach vacations this time of year isn’t new,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement. “It’s the number of bookings we’re seeing, with increases in the triple digits over last year and even beating pre-pandemic volumes. The moral of the story is that people, more than ever, want to get away and enjoy a little taste of paradise.”
But those travelers are likely paying more. Flight data from travel search company Kayak shows fares for spring break travel from Chicago are up 36% from 2019.
More fare increases might be in store, as one measure airlines could take to contend with fluctuating oil prices. At an investor conference this month, Delta Air Lines President Glen Hauenstein said the company thought Delta customers would be willing to pay to absorb the cost of fuel.
“I think we’re seeing safe, feeling safe and turning fear into confidence. Confidence in the traveling public, confidence in reopening offices, confidence in taking masks off and that is all leading to a surge in demand,” he said. “And that surge couldn’t come at a better time with fuel prices running up.”
Southwest Airlines, for its part, raised fares across the system Feb. 1, Chief Financial Officer Tammy Romo said at the investor conference. The carrier has a fuel hedging program intended to provide a cushion against price spikes.
For drivers in the Chicago metro area, the average price of gas on a recent weekday was was $4.61 a gallon, down from a high of $4.67 earlier this month but still more than $0.80 above the average price a month before, according to AAA.
Still, AAA didn’t anticipate rising fuel prices would limit spring break traveling for those flying or driving, especially after two years of limited travel. More likely for drivers would be shorter road trips and spending less on hotels, shopping or dining to account for higher gas prices, spokeswoman Molly Hart said in an email.
For those flying out of O’Hare, construction will be another factor to contend with. As part of an ongoing revamp of the airport, an expansion is underway in Terminal 5, and roadwork could affect passengers trying to reach terminals 1, 2 and 3.