Brief thought exercise: as the price of airfare (likely) begins/continues to rise, will we see more people settle near their families?

Planes do require fuel to fly, and as fossil fuel extraction becomes pricier over time, it stands to reason that flights will, too. If you don’t generally believe any of this, consider this fact: from ’09 to ’14, flight costs rose 12 percent (that’s only five years). Even if you kept that at the same clip, prices would rise by half every 20 years — and we’re not keeping it at the same clip, because the prices will rise dramatically with regard to fossil fuel situations down the line.

You could also argue that airline prices have actually drastically fallen in the past couple of decades, but no one has really noticed. Here’s why, essentially: the “magic number” for booking domestic flights is theoretically 49 days out. 49 days from today is July 4th (potentially a bad example here), so let’s look at July 11th. Let’s say I’m married (I am!) and let’s say I want to fly from New York to Denver (arbitrary locations) on the July 11th weekend, 56 days hence. Right now, if I do a Hacker Fare on Kayak and fly back overnight Monday — > Tuesday (thus missing a day of work, theoretically), the fare is $319. Multiply that by 2 and it’s $638. Now assume, just on average, that you and your spouse make about $60,000-$70,000/year (an average-ish middle class income). You have rent, utilities, groceries, and some level of debt, like a normal person. $638 is akin to full rent or 3/4 rent in many cities, so you’re basically paying rent twice to make this flight. Now … these are two arbitrary cities, and you are crossing two time zones in the process, so perhaps a NYC — > Raleigh flight on the same weekend would be cheaper (’tis, you can get it for $488 for two people).

The broader point here is this, though: if airline prices rise (seemingly logical assumption) and generalized white-collar-job wages semi-stagnate (also a logical assumption if margins get tighter for companies), then … are more people going to end up settling near their families because of the prohibitive cost of visiting them/seeing them frequently with those other two conditions in place? This is kind of interesting, because one of the core tenets of your life is your connection back to your family (for good or bad), but one of the greatest things about life is the ability to choose your own path (go live in Seattle when you’re from Orlando just because you think it would be a cool experience). Could a wages down + airfare up situation actually strengthen family connections and communities over time? (And yes, I know things like Skype and Google Hangouts exist, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as being in a room with someone, especially if things like grandkids come into the picture.)

Right now in the United States, this isn’t a thing — but could it be?

Ted Bauer