Will prices rise? What about the added fees? What new trends can we expect? Air travel in 2012 is shaping up to be busier and more expensive than 2011. Here's a look at some predictions and a preview of what to expect in the coming year.
Will Airfare Go Up?
This is the first question on everyone's mind. In 2011, we've seen a whole host of fare increases -- 22 to be exact -- but will that continue in the New Year?
Only nine attempted price hikes actually succeeded in 2011, but the cost of airfare in 2012 will really depend on both passenger demand and fuel prices.
One thing is certain; passenger demand was up in 2011 despite the shaky economy. With increased demand comes an increased fare, so if demand continues to grow in 2012, you can be sure the price will too.
The less reliable determinant is fuel price. If fuel prices spike higher than their current numbers, airlines will be forced to raise fares regardless of the demand. When this happens, airlines typically reduce the number of flights to cut on fuel costs.
Either way, airlines need to fill up those undesirable middle seats, so you can count on occasional discounts. As always, flying midweek should increase your chance of a great deal in 2012.
No matter what happens with fuel prices, the number of aircraft in the sky will likely continue to drop as passengers ride on fuller planes.
Specifically, American Airlines will cut back on services to select markets as part of its bankruptcy restructuring. Southwest, meanwhile, will remove service in many AirTran markets as the airlines' merger moves along.
You can also expect fewer flights to smaller U.S. cities and fewer, fuller flights across the Atlantic, continuing a trend seen over the last decade.
A survey released on Dec. 19 by Travel-Ticker found that, on the whole, travel is on the rise. Forty-four percent of respondents plan on taking more leisure trips in 2012 than they did in 2011, a five percent increase over last year's numbers. Moreover, 96 percent of respondents said they're looking to fit more travel into 2012 if they are able to find good deals in the New Year.
How About the Fees?
It may seem like pesky fees have been around forever, but the idea really began in 2008 when we first started paying for our bags.
In 2012, we will likely continue to pay fees for everything from our seat selection to the bag of peanuts we get on board. These nonstop fees make it increasingly harder for consumers to calculate which airline is actually providing the better deal.
The sad reality is those billions of dollars in luggage fees are the only thing keeping airlines profitable. Though a newly proposed bill by Sen. Mary Landrieu threatens to eradicate checked bag fees, the truth is it's unlikely to pass.
New rules from the federal government will, however, make it easier to find fee information up front, but fees will remain a way for airlines to offer lower base fares and allow travelers to pay more if they choose.
As a good rule of thumb, don't expect anything extra unless you specifically read about it upon purchase.
Analysts predict the industry will start favoring methods like Frontier's where different fare categories with different amenities are bundled together as a package.
What are the New trends?
In 2012, industry experts expect more travelers than ever before to book their flights on smartphones and tablets.
In another tech trend, airlines are exploring options to reward frequent business fliers with electronic loyalty cards programed to function as boarding passes. The loyalty cards could then be updated for each flight and used at automatic check-in kiosks.
Yet, the most fascinating new trend to debut in 2012 will be in-flight matchmaking services.
KLM spokesperson Mina Jarvis confirmed to the International Business Times that the social seating tool called Meet & Seat will launch at the beginning of next year and be available to all passengers. The idea is that passengers will be able to pick others with the same interests as a seatmate by linking social media profiles to check-in information.