How Boeing's Turbulence Could Cause Airfares To Skyrocket

As the weather heats up and the school year ends, you might find yourself looking ahead to summer vacations. Whether you're visiting family, or heading somewhere new, chances are good you'll need to board a plane this summer. According to NerdWallet, 45% of Americans plan on taking a summer trip that will require a flight or hotel in 2024. However, prices could end up being a significant factor this summer (see our guide for affordable destinations in the U.S.). While increased airfare prices and inflation were bad enough already, there is another important factor that could make summer travel even more difficult. Boeing, the aviation giant behind most of the country's commercial airplanes, is in trouble.

After a door blew off during an Alaska Airlines flight in January, Boeing has faced backlash as well as production delays for its 737 MAX. On top of this, the Federal Aviation Administration reported it was investigating the company for potentially falsified inspection records on its 787 Dreamliner. The company's increasingly bad reputation could make flying this summer a less affordable option than ever before.

How Boeing's problems affects you

The biggest thing to know about Boeing's current production issues and investigations, is how the company's increasing backlog (which was almost 6,000 orders as of the end of March) could affect your budget as a consumer. Henry Harteveldt, an airline analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, told CBS MoneyWatch, "It's not that airlines will have to cut flights — it's that they won't be able to add as many new flights as they perhaps had hoped to for the summer." This means that as demand grows for flights, which typically happens in the summer, airlines will not be able to add flights to meet that demand. Therefore, the price for existing flights is almost guaranteed to rise as the supply of flights becomes more and more scarce.

"It's disappointing news for consumers and for airlines," Harteveldt said, adding, "Consumers may not have as many flights, and airlines won't be able to offer as many flights and make more money. It's lose-lose for airlines and travelers." It's also worth noting that airline prices were already set to be high even before Boeing's recent problems (not to mention all of the sneaky ways airlines trick you into paying more). The Consumer Price Index for Airline Fares has tracked a steady rise in airfares since the summer of 2023, while a report from CNBC showed that airline tickets outpaced inflation between 2021 and 2023 (with an over 25% increase in prices). This has increasingly made airline travel difficult, or completely inaccessible, for already financially strained Americans.

Other potential problems for Boeing

As investigations into Boeing's falsified records and lack of safety inspections grow, so too does the possibility that certain aircraft could be grounded. For example, after the Alaska Airlines incident in which the door plug on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 blew off mid-flight, the FAA grounded 171 other MAX 9 jets while the agency investigated. Inspections — and re-inspections — of not just planes currently in production but also planes being used in the in-service fleet could lead to additional safety concerns or even aircraft groundings, which would further hurt the airline industry and send prices soaring.

It's worth noting that several whistleblowers have already come forward about Boeing's unsafe manufacturing practices. Their claims have included numerous corner-cutting decisions, as well as the intentional use of defective parts, Boeing ignoring defects in its aircrafts, and other safety concerns that could put passengers at risk in the event of an emergency.

While Boeing's ongoing problems definitely have the potential to make airfare a real problem for consumers this summer season, it's important to realize that it's not all bad news. In fact, some other indicators look better than they have in years. For instance, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows a 5.3% decrease in the per-gallon cost of domestic fuel for airlines. This could help in that it would essentially not pile on to the already increasing ticket-price situation. Time will tell how high summer flight prices might go, but in the meantime, it could be worth planning a road trip instead. (Learn about major money mistakes to avoid while traveling.)