In case you haven't noticed, the cost of filling up at your local gas station has likely been inching upward lately. That's because crude oil prices have been on the rise, posting some of the highest prices we've seen since last November. This steady increase has driven the price of jet fuel ($76 per barrel at press time) up by 22 percent over the past month to easily the highest levels seen this year.
Ready to panic?
Anyone with a passing interest in travel remembers the fiasco of last summer, when jet fuel reached astronomical heights (around $180 per barrel) and airlines descended into an end-of-days frenzy of fees. In short, it was pretty horrible, one of the worst stretches ever for the airline industry. So to diffuse any anxiety (for the time being) let me say that fuel prices today are 52 percent lower than they were a year ago. In fact, the price of fuel now isn't even that bad, it just has a long way to come up from where it was earlier this year.
Still, there is cause for measured concern. If fuel keeps rising past $80, $90, or even $100 per barrel, the cost of fueling aircraft will put enormous pressure on carriers still struggling to put people in their seats. What could this mean for travelers? With most airlines already charging a litany of fees, it hardly seems likely that more would be added (though some carriers have a penchant for creativity in this department). We could see fares rise a bit, but that comes with the risk of alienating customers. For its part, Japan Airlines is fighting the fuel price war by reducing the size of its spoons.
Anyway, something to keep an eye on. With the economy in a prolonged state of unpredictability, there's little telling what the next few months will look like. But considering the potential consequences of rising fuel prices, this is a trend worth watching.