With Easter and Passover falling on the same weekend, in the middle of spring break season, expect high traffic at airports across the nation. Why? Because—good news—airfares are still affordable. The bad: lengthy security lines, unless you buy TSA’s workaround. Read on, fair flier, for a preview of what to expect in the air this spring.
Airfares in a Holding Pattern
Spring is the season of portent for airfares, poised between annual winter lows and summer highs. Depressed fuel prices have kept airfares down, but with their recent rise, fares too will rise. But not yet, say experts. Spring tickets are still a good deal, down nearly 6 percent versus last spring according to Hopper, the airfare prediction site. It found the average domestic round-trip ticket costs $223 in March and ticks up to $230 in April.
“A lot of what we’ve seen in terms of downward pressure is based on competition,” said Patrick Surrey, chief data scientist for Hopper, citing the growth of low-cost carriers and the advent of basic economy fares among legacy airlines. “I think that we might be at the end of the road, and that airfares will start creeping upwards as we go forward from here.”
The Cheapest $85 You Can Spend
The Transportation Security Administration is pushing its TSA Pre-Check program that provides access to expedited security lanes to enrollees, who pay $85 for a five-year term. (The agency notes the cost breaks down to $17 a year.)
The application involves a background check, fingerprinting, and an interview with a TSA agent. The agency is making it easier for fliers to apply by opening up pop-up offices in airports around the country, including Oakland, California, February 26 to March 9, and Glacier Park International Airport, February 26 to March 2. It recently established temporary offices in Long Island, West Virginia, and Bozeman, Montana.
Expedited screening saves time largely for domestic fliers, but the total number of carriers participating in the program rose to 47 when five international airlines recently joined, including Air France and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
Now that passengers are printing their own boarding passes or downloading them on their phones, airlines don’t need the kind of airport lobby space—filled with ticket counters and agents—that they once did. This and the growing footprint of the TSA are pushing security operations forward into the lobbies, which are shrinking. Spring-breakers in Florida will find the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport recently unveiled a Terminal 1 renovation that rationalizes its design, using one security checkpoint, after which passengers have access to three concourses. Washington, D.C.’s Reagan airport is working on something similar.
Most of the plans leave more space for airport retail outlets, seating, and charging stations. Fort Lauderdale’s plan included adding four major art installations, a taco and tequila bar, and many more outlets for charging electronic devices, allowing fliers to catch up on episodes of Stranger Things while idling preflight.
Bringing that screening device is growing more important as screens slowly disappear from seatbacks on domestic flights. Airlines such as United encourage fliers to stream content onto their own devices using in-flight Wi-Fi, rather than watch on supplied screens.
“There’s debate about how far this will go, but we’ve seen it happening,” said Seth Kaplan, managing partner of the air-industry trade publication Airline Weekly.
Screen-free orders largely apply to new narrow-body, single-aisle aircraft that run on shorter routes. WestJet and American Airlines have both announced they will forgo screens on these types of planes.
For now, international flights still entertain with supplied screens.
“All kinds of amenities matter more on long-haul flights,” said Kaplan. “If you ask passengers to depend on their own devices, you need to provide charging capability and once you’re wiring the cabins for that, you’re halfway to providing screens anyway.”