U.S. airlines may try to cover fuel-price increases by raising fares, a process that can take months to play out, but carriers typically are limited in how much they can pass on to customers, industry analysts said. And with the rebound being led by leisure travelers, who are far more sensitive to ticket prices than corporate travelers, airlines will have to tread carefully.
Other options include cutting flights that are barely profitable or reining in plans to restore flights.
“In general, growth may slow, or, as is the current case, capacity that airlines would have brought back if the pandemic continued to recede won’t return,” Helane Becker, an airline analyst at the investment bank Cowen, wrote in a recent research note.
At the same time, some consumers facing higher prices for goods and services may not have much left to spend on vacations, experts said. And while some budget carriers may target those travelers, there’s no guarantee that airlines will cut fares across the board, especially when facing steep debt accrued during the pandemic and pressure from shareholders eager to see profits, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and the president of Atmosphere Research Group.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
“Airline C.E.O.s are not in a generous state of mind these days, nor are their C.F.O.s, so I’m not expecting airlines to discount seats to the same extent that we may have otherwise seen,” he said. “I think that there’s a lot of pressure on airlines to keep their airfares as high they can.”
Depending on how Russia’s war on Ukraine plays out, airlines may also not see the rebound in lucrative trans-Atlantic travel that they had expected, experts said. But domestic and short-distance international travel have and will continue to lead the recovery. And despite the hurdles in the industry’s way, analysts and airlines are preparing for a strong summer season.
“What we’ll end up with is a domestic summer that looks very good as opposed to great,” Mr. Engel said.