Will Ukraine conflict impact US air travel? Expert weighs in

NEW YORK (PIX11) — For the past three weeks, Maisa Botelho stared at her laptop…

NEW YORK (PIX11) — For the past three weeks, Maisa Botelho stared at her laptop from time to time with the hope of striking a good deal.  

“It is quite exhausting to stay in this hunt for flights with at least reasonable prices,” she said.  

The lawyer, who came to New York City to study, was supposed to go back to her home country of Brazil in late February. But because of increased fares, she has been forced to push back her departure from the Big Apple.  

“In a matter of days, prices went from $400 to about $1,500 from LaGuardia to Rio de Janeiro, with several layovers. Direct flights were out of the question,” she said. “I decided to take this time off to study since the pandemic started to wind down. I certainly did not expect such expensive plane tickets, especially for a one-way trip.” 

Little did Botelho know that the cause of the steep increase of plane tickets to her country – and to pretty much everywhere else – could be linked to what’s happening thousands of miles away, in East Europe.  

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the country has faced a slew of sanctions imposed by dozens of nations. These sanctions range from being prohibited from using the airspace of the entire European Union, Canada, United States, Australia, and several others, to being banned from selling oil, liquefied natural gas, and coal in the U.S. and United Kingdom. 

Although the moves aim to disrupt the financial structures that fund the continuous attacks in Ukraine, they also result in a domino effect that impacts several sectors of America’s economy, especially those heavily reliant on fuel. Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights, said that includes airlines that operate in the U.S. 

“The biggest thing that everyone is keeping their eyes on is fuel cost. Jet fuel is about a third of most airlines’ expenses; it’s the second basic expense they have,” said Orlando. “The airlines struggled all pandemic long. They’re trying to make money again, and now all of a sudden, they are deciding, ‘How much of this extra cost are we going to pass down to consumers and how much are we going to eat’ in order to stay competitive in this very competitive atmosphere.” 

Air travel forecast 

More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the forecast for air travel was promising. Early predictions made by management consulting company Bain & Company projected global airline revenue for 2022 to reach $432 billion in the baseline recovery scenario. That would represent about 65% of 2019’s revenue, with North America and Europe leading the way.  

“About a month ago or so, we were coming out of the omicron wave, and we were feeling really good in the travel industry about what’s happening to go into the spring and summer,” said Orlando. “The war in Ukraine has kind of thrown a wrench in everything. So not knowing how long oil prices will be at $100 a barrel or more, and taking a worst-case scenario approach, I have been advising people to be a little bit more aggressive and proactive than ever, because, within about a month or two, we are going to see airlines pass some of that cost down to consumers.” 

The long-haul flights are expected to face the steepest increase in prices since they use more fuel. In the case of Asian countries, the prediction is far less uplifting.  

“Most of the Asian continent is opening up now bit by bit, but we are not seeing airlines putting more big planes on those routes because demand is down, business travel is way down, and they have to fly over Russian airspace. So now they have to fly around it, and waste even more fuel,” said Orlando.  

Counterintuitively, flights to Europe appear to be more affordable than ever. The two main reasons are the dip in interest in travel to the continent because of the unrest in Ukraine and increased competition between European airlines.  

“When demand goes down, but supplies stay the same, that generally means prices go down. European airlines are keeping more jets on the more profitable routes to and from the United States, so there is a lot of supply and competition.”  

Domestically, flights from New York City to Florida have the best deals.  

“We are seeing full-service carriers offering $ 93 roundtrip flights to Miami Beach,” said Orlando.  

‘Let the cheap flights guide you’ 

The best way to get a good deal on your next vacation: Book it now.  

“Consider flying in [an] off-time. Most people try to fly out on a Monday and fly back on a Friday. But if you fly on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, you are guaranteed to save some money, sometimes hundreds of dollars,” Orlando said. “But more importantly, let the cheap flights guide you. Instead of locking in a hotel, and trying to find flights that work around that, look for flight dates that work for you at a price that’s acceptable to you, and then book your accommodation around that. It is much harder to lock a good flight price than it is to lock a good hotel price.”