Airline Fares a Tax on Families

Nov 27, 2008 4:44 PM. All work by , ,

NUTLEY, N.J.—Airline ticket prices will separate a family of four this holiday season. Stephanie Komura chose to spend the holidays at home with her father Shigeru while her mother and younger brother visit their extended family in Hawaii.

Stephanie and Shigeru say they are saving between two- and four-thousand dollars, depending on when and where they chose to buy their tickets. The sacrifice means more than giving up a balmy beachside vacation — it means breaking tradition and missing what the Komuras call their largest family gathering of the year. This is the first year that Stephanie has opted to stay home to save the family money. Shigeru, who use to work two jobs until recently, has only flown to Hawaii with the family a handful of times, he says.

“My dad usually spends the holidays by himself,” says Stephanie, “I’m glad I’m staying here, even if I could afford [the flight to Hawaii].”

Stephanie is in her third year at Villanova University and says that her college expenses have really taxed her family and is one of the reasons why her father took up a second job last year.

Georgetown University sophomore Hilary Nakasone paid roughly $1,000 for her ticket back to Hawaii this winter break, she says. Her mother bought the ticket almost five months ago, along with an even more expensive ticket for her return home again this coming summer.

And these aren’t fancy tickets. These are economy class, non-exchangeable, non-refundable, try-to-pass-your-second-suitcase-as-a-backpack sort of tickets. However, both Nakasone and the Komura family say that reuniting with their families this Christmas is a worthwhile strain.

“If [my mother] had let me skip my first day of classes, I would have saved $400!” says Nakasone, who found that ticket prices fluctuated dramatically from day-to-day. She almost went ahead and bought the tickets herself, she says.

The rise in ticket prices, the lengthening list of airline fees, the steady increase of college tuition and the poor state of the economy are making it extremely tough on those travelling long distances. Both Nakasone and the Komuras agree that the trials of this holiday season instilled an appreciation for more affordable pricing; however, the biggest change in each was distrust.

“If oil is so cheap now, why are tickets still so expensive?” asked Nakasone, rhetorically. Her face flushed as she stood and recalled how a flight home had cost half as much in May 2008 even though the price of crude oil was two and a half times more expensive than it is now.

In contrast to what Nakasone and the Komuras found, a press release by the online travel booking site,, said that airline fares are only getting cheaper.

“For those who priced out a December trip earlier this year and found travel was out of their reach this holiday season, it's time for another look.” The press statement went on to say that the company’s “most recent data” showed an average price drop of $53 in the last five weeks. It went on to say, “Despite the economic downturn, there will be no shortage of travelers,” and that passengers may end up paying less than they did a year ago for the same flight.

Nakasone opened an archived email after reading the Travelocity press release. It was a confirmation email for a round-trip airline ticket, the first leg of which went from Dulles Airport, D.C. to Honolulu last December. The ticket was $843.

edit post