Could high gas prices impact airline travel? AAA weighs in

Travel experts say rising gas prices could soon lead to more expensive flights as the Russia-Ukraine crisis continues. 

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday the U.S. will ban all Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia’s economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, but he acknowledged it will bring costs to Americans, particularly at the gas pump.

According to auto club AAA, the price of regular gasoline on average across the U.S. hit an all-time high on Tuesday at $4.173, surpassing a record previously set in 2008, as the U.S. and British governments banned Russian oil imports. On Tuesday, California had the highest average price per gallon among U.S. states at $5.44, while Oklahoma was among the lowest at $3.719.

But the pain at the pump could bring pain to the airline ticket counters. However, AAA says don’t expect a surge in flight prices anytime soon.

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"The cost of airfare is not impacting the decision to travel yet," AAA spokesperson Doug Shupe told FOX Television Stations. 

Shupe said just because drivers are paying more at the gas stations doesn’t necessarily mean airlines will immediately follow suit. He said airlines are more concerned with the cost of crude oil.

"Once crude oil rises, airlines are impacted if they did not buy futures to cover for uncertainty," he continued. "Jet fuel has to be micro-processed (refined) to a greater degree than fuel used for cars and it is costly to do so."

"As the cost per barrel of crude increases, you can expect airlines to react in major markets where lift is limited and demand is high," he added.

Some airlines used to resort to fuel hedging — where they will enter into a contract and lock in oil prices with a company for an extended period of time. But some airlines did away with that practice as the price for oil lowered

According to Reuters, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines are now fully unhedged. 

Nevertheless, some international airlines have already passed on high gas prices to customers. Reuters reported that Malaysia's AirAsia and some Chinese airlines have raised fuel surcharges for passengers. 

RELATED: AAA: Traveler confidence rebounding in 2022 as COVID-19 cases drop

Shupe said he doesn’t have an estimate as to when U.S. airlines would increase their ticket prices if the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues. 

Higher gas prices couldn’t come at a more inopportune time as Americans look forward to the upcoming spring and travel seasons. 

AAA reported the 2022 travel season is off to a much stronger start compared to a year ago as bookings have increased. The agency said a new quarterly survey showed that traveler confidence is on the rise. Sixty-three percent of Floridians reported feeling comfortable traveling now – a significant increase from 40% in early 2021, according to the agency. 

Shupe said the best advice for travelers is to book their airline tickets as soon as possible. 

"Plan ahead as much as possible, be flexible and book early," he said. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.