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SFO prices are sky-high this holiday season

Travelers endure long lines in Terminal 3 security checkpoints San Francisco International Airport at (SFO) on Friday, July 1, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Say farewell to pandemic-era flight discounts: Prices are hitting a five-year high at San Francisco’s airport this holiday season.

The average domestic traveler departing San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is paying nearly 90% more for a Christmas season flight than during 2020, when passengers willing to fly during the height of the pandemic enjoyed rock-bottom prices, according to data from the travel app Hopper. Thanksgiving season flights are up more than 40% compared with 2020.

The increases have brought prices soaring past pre-Covid 2019 averages, bringing them neck-and-neck with the previously priciest rates seen in 2018.

Nationwide, the price of jet fuel and pent-up travel demand are driving the premium prices, according to Hayley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist. 

The supply of flights is also restricted due to airline pilot shortages, which contributes to price increases, SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel said.

International travelers are taking an even harder hit to their wallets. The average $1,118 international round-trip ticket this Thanksgiving is over $380 more than what passengers paid in 2019.

San Franciscans may already be used to shelling out more for their flights than their family members in other states. SFO is the priciest airport for domestic flights out of the top 25 American airports with the most domestic passengers, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which covers the second quarter of 2022. 

SFO regularly takes the quarterly crown for the most expensive airport, the data shows. In fact, it hasn’t fallen off the list of the top five priciest major airports since the second quarter of 2019, when it ranked ninth.

SFO recently brought on a new low-cost airline, Breeze, and Scott’s Cheap Flights recently named the airport a hub for cheap international flights, Yakel said when asked about the airport’s legacy of steep domestic ticket prices.

Premium prices may just be the cost of excellence; The Wall Street Journal recently named SFO the best large U.S. airport, citing, in part, the airport’s amenities, which include yoga rooms, a museum and a team of stress-relief animals. Reliability was also a major contributor to the Journal’s decision to rank SFO in the top slot. With over 81% of flights departing on time in the first half of 2022, SFO beat out the national airport average (which was about 76%), according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Airport workers likely have a less generous view of SFO’s performance; over 1,000 of them went on strike earlier this year to demand better wages and healthcare benefits.

About five million people will travel through SFO between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Yakel predicts. That will make it the busiest holiday travel season since the pandemic began, although it will still fall about 15% short of 2019 totals.

Noah Baustin can be reached at