There were four of us waiting at the rental car in Downers Grove and only one overworked clerk.
I flinched when she told a potential customer that no vehicles were available, but – miraculously – my midsize SUV was there as promised. Just one hiccup before starting the two-day driving trip in Maine: Tire pressure was low, the clerk said. I should take it to Firestone.
So I went to service my $572 rental and felt grateful. Because a car with dysfunctional tires is better than no car at all…right?
Across America, travelers eager to escape after months of COVID-19 restrictions are seeing unprecedented flight cancellations, sky-high gas prices, car shortages, and the upheaval of conventions.
Take Ellen Mauer. A year ago, the Libertyville resident paid American Airlines extra for direct flight tickets to Puerto Vallarta, her traditional March Break getaway with friends and family.
But in January, American downgraded Mauer’s booking, adding a stopover in Dallas on the return trip with barely enough time to make connections.
There were no refunds and no other direct flights available, she said. A few months later, when direct flights were announced, the airline “refused to move us as these were selling for thousands of dollars more”.
Mauer was told that the transaction disclaimers give American “the opportunity and the right at any time to change your direct flight … and you cannot get your money back.”
“It’s a complete scam,” Mauer said. “We made our journey and ran through the airport. We barely made it, and only because there was a delay in the (return) flight.”
American Airlines did not return a request for comment.
After plummeting in 2020, air traffic was at 87% of 2019 levels on Friday, according to federal data. The push comes as US airlines grapple with staff shortages, and the suit has caused thousands of cancellations this summer. Carriers can absorb 3% cancellation rates, but those numbers averaged 4% at the end of June for U.S. airlines Delta, Southwest and United, researchers from the DePaul University Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development reported. .
“Air travel won’t be as predictable again as it was just a few years ago, but airlines have a strong incentive to make things better,” said transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman.
“Carriers are walking away from huge revenue due to canceled and delayed flights. Plus, they’re paying for planes and crews even when they’re grounded.”
As for rental cars, rates are $40 more per day on average than in 2019, AAA found.
“The rental car situation is indeed dire and unlikely to improve much in the near term,” said Tom Appel, publisher of Consumer Guide Automotive. The Palatine resident is still reeling from a $1,100 estimate for a minivan to move his daughter to graduate school in Colorado. Instead, he opted for a $500 midsize crossover.
“Due to the chip/supply chain shortage issue, automakers are limited in the number of vehicles they can build and therefore focus on retail sales, which are more profitable than rental sales. “, said Appel. The situation “has left the U.S. market short of nearly 8 million cars and trucks,” he said, adding that the lack of rental cars isn’t expected to ease until 2024.
As for gas, AAA averaged $5.04 for a regular Friday gallon in the Chicago metro area. That’s astronomical compared to $3.56 a year ago but cheaper than $5.22 on July 22.
“Gas prices are still under further downward pressure from a pullback in gasoline demand,” said AAA’s Molly Hart. “Last Monday, readings from the Energy Information Administration put gasoline demand 5% to 10% below levels a year ago.
“It remains a volatile market and we have seen gasoline prices rebound over the past few months. As Labor Day approaches, we may see a slight increase in pump prices.”
Traffic jam alert
Expect lane closures and delays on the I-290 northbound exit ramp at Biesterfield Road starting Monday as IDOT crews rebuild and widen the exit. The work will be completed in the spring of 2023.
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