Should you fly or drive this summer? That’s how you decide.

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

(Video: Washington Post/iStock illustration)

No matter how you travel this summer, it’s complicated – from travelers flooding airports and roads to literal flooding canceling your vacation.

So which is the better option – fly or drive? With high gas prices and labor shortages at airports, the choice of transportation can feel like a double-edged sword. On the one hand you have to deal with traffic, fuel costs and a shortage of rental cars when driving. On the other hand, flight cancellations, long queues and high ticket prices.

“Deciding which mode to choose will depend on personal circumstances, distance and need for speed,” said Andrew Gross, a spokesman for AAA. For example, if you only have a few days but need to travel across the country, air travel is the way to go.

Much of the decision can come down to preference and distance. So weigh up whether you should hit the road or brave the airports.

You may experience sticker shock at the pump, but unfortunately flights aren’t cheap either at the moment as demand has increased due to the easing of pandemic restrictions.

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

It’s important to break down how much each option costs. For example, if a trip to Cincinnati costs $150 round-trip or $200 total for gas, flying takes precedence over flying solo, Keyes said. And there are other road trip factors to consider such as: B. One night’s accommodation in a hotel or Airbnb, if required, plus meals.

Road trip in summer? Our gas calculator will help you calculate your costs.

However, if you are traveling with a family of four, it would cost three times as much to fly. “The most financially intelligent summer vacation decision right now would be to drive a few hours away from home,” he said. “There are almost no cheap summer flights left, so flying is not the best financial choice for the summer.”

Kayak launched a summer trip calculator to help travelers decide that very question of driving or flying. The tool asks for your destination and date, then calculates the distance and time; how much fuel you need and the cost; and rental car prices if you need one. Then you can compare it with flight prices to make the wiser decision.

While the aforementioned flight to Cincinnati may take as little as 90 minutes, it’s important to factor in the time it takes to transit to the airport, go through security, wait for your flight, and drive from the airport to your hotel or home, Keyes said .

“A 90-minute flight can actually add up to five hours or more total travel time,” he said. If the drive to Cincinnati took you twice as long this time, it might be worth flying. But if driving there would only take a few hours, driving is the move. And only if your flights are still on schedule.

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

The airport complications

Flying can come with more situations that you can’t control, especially this summer. Labor shortages everywhere from flight crews to airport restaurants have wreaked havoc at airports lately. And because airlines are understaffed and have cut flights, delays from summer storms can complicate things more than in the past. So keep this in mind when booking flights.

“Americans are undeterred by high airline ticket and fuel prices as they rush to expand travel that has been restricted for the past two years,” Gross said. That makes air travel chaotic. “In many cases, traveling a few hundred miles might make sense to drive rather than fly, given the problems airlines have dealing with volume,” he added.

The dos and don’ts of flying this summer

Deciding when to fly over also depends on the weekend you travel. According to TSA, the Friday before July 4 was the busiest day for air travel since February 2020, with nearly 2.5 million passengers screened. More than 1,400 flights were canceled over the holiday weekend, marking Memorial Day weekend and Father’s Day weekend and of June 16th.

To avoid these complications as much as possible, consider whether you can afford the time and money to fly early in the day. You’re less likely to be canceled and have more options to rebook if that’s the case.

Flying may still not be a realistic option for those who are medically vulnerable or children under the age of 5 who are not yet fully vaccinated. Also, maskless, crowded spaces can inspire anxiety for anyone.

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.

That’s a function of “great ventilation and filtration while the systems are running,” he said, except for boarding and disembarking, because the systems aren’t normally running at that time. He recommended wearing a quality mask that fits well if a traveler is concerned.

You don’t have to wear a mask on the plane. Do it anyway, experts say.

Allen has been studying air quality on airplanes for more than a decade and said while transmission can happen on an airplane, it’s rare.

“Even if others are not masked, you are well protected,” he added. “Disposable masking is very effective.” He also said it wasn’t worth giving up drinking water. “The ventilation system does its job during flight, and hydration is really important to staying healthy, especially on a low-humidity plane,” Allen said.

However, the risk of exposure to coronavirus is higher at airports, especially when fellow passengers are not masked. It’s also important to note that masks are no longer required on flights, and if this makes you uncomfortable, driving is probably a better option.