HomeTravelsShould we fly or drive this summer? Here's how to decide.

Should we fly or drive this summer? Here’s how to decide.

Prices and complications are high almost everywhere. So how do you know how to travel?

(Video: Washington Post illustration/iStock)

No matter how you travel this summer, it’s complicated – from travelers flooding airports and highways to literally flooding canceling vacations.

So which is the better option – flying or driving? With high gas prices and airport labor shortages, choosing your mode of transportation can seem like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have traffic, fuel costs, and a shortage of rental cars to deal with while driving. On the other, you have flight cancellations, long lines and high ticket prices.

“The decision of which mode to take depends on personal circumstances, the distance involved and the need for speed,” said AAA spokesman Andrew Gross. For example, if you only have a few days but need to cross the country, flying is the way to go.

Much of the decision may come down to preference and distance. Here’s how to determine whether you should hit the road or brave the airports.

You might be in sticker shock at the pump, but unfortunately flights aren’t cheap right now either, thanks to an increase in demand as pandemic restrictions have eased.

“There are two main factors you need to consider when deciding whether to fly or drive – the price per person and the total travel time,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

It is important to break down the cost of each option. For example, if a trip to Cincinnati costs $150 for a round-trip airfare or a total of $200 for gas, airfare wins out if you’re traveling solo, Keyes said. And there are other travel factors to consider, such as an overnight stopover at a hotel or Airbnb if necessary, as well as meals.

Summer road trip? Our gas calculator can help you see your costs.

If you are traveling with a family of four, the plane will cost you three times as much. “The financially smartest decision for summer vacation at this point would be to drive somewhere a few hours from your home,” he said. “There are hardly any cheap summer flights left, so flying is not the best financial choice for the summer.”

Kayak has launched a summer trip calculator to help travelers decide on that drive-or-fly question. The tool asks for your destination and dates, then calculates distance and time; the amount of fuel you will need and the cost; and rental car prices, if you need them. Then you can compare it to flight prices to decide on the smartest decision.

Although the aforementioned flight to Cincinnati only takes 90 minutes, it’s important to consider airport transit time, clear security, wait for your flight, and get to your hotel or home from the airport, Keyes said.

“A 90-minute flight can actually mean five hours or more of total travel time,” he said. If driving to Cincinnati would take you twice as long, it might be worth flying. But if driving there would only take you a few hours, driving is the move. And that’s only if your flights are always on time.

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If flying, the Transportation Security Administration recommends travelers arrive two hours before their domestic flight and three hours before international. Even if you like to shorten your arrival time at the airport, now is not the time.

Airport hassles

Flying can come with more situations beyond your control, especially this summer. Labor shortages everywhere from flight crews to airport restaurants have recently caused chaos at airports. And because airlines are understaffed and have cut flights, summer storm delays may complicate matters more than in the past. So take all of this into consideration when booking flights.

“Americans aren’t fazed by high airfare and fuel prices as they rush to boost travel that has been cut for two years,” Gross said. This makes air travel chaotic. “In many cases, a trip of a few hundred miles might make more sense to go by car rather than by plane at this time, given the difficulties airlines have in managing the volume,” he said. he adds.

Airplane do’s and don’ts this summer

Deciding when to fly over driving also depends on the weekend you are traveling. TSA said the Friday before July 4 was the busiest day for air travel since February 2020, with nearly 2.5 million passengers screened. Over the holiday weekend, more than 1,400 flights were canceled, which was down from Memorial Day weekend and Father’s Day and June 19 weekend.

To avoid these complications as much as possible, assess whether you can afford – both in terms of time and money – to fly early in the day. You are less likely to be canceled and will have more options to rebook if you are.

Flying may not yet be a realistic option for medically vulnerable people or children under 5 who are not yet fully immunized. Additionally, crowded spaces without a mask can be anxiety-provoking for everyone.

The risk of contracting the coronavirus on an airplane is low, said Joseph Allen, an associate professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

It’s a function of “great ventilation and filtration while the systems are running,” he said, except during embarkation and disembarkation, because the systems are generally not running at that time. He recommended wearing a high-quality mask that fits well if a traveler is concerned.

You are not required to wear a mask on planes. Do it anyway, experts say.

Allen has studied airplane air quality for more than a decade and said that while transmission can occur in an airplane, it is rare.

“Even if others are not masked, you will be well protected,” he added. “One-way masking is very effective.” He also said that it was not worth avoiding drinking water. “The ventilation system does its job during the flight, and hydration is really important to staying healthy, especially on an airplane where the humidity is low,” Allen said.

At airports, however, the risk of exposure to the coronavirus is higher, especially if other travelers are not masked. It’s also important to note that masks are no longer required on flights, and if that makes you uncomfortable, driving is probably a better option.

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