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What travelers need to know about the gas shortage

While gas shortages are not expected to drag on, both road trips and flights could be affected

A woman asks a worker for assistance as people wait in long lines at an Exxon gas station in Springfield, Va., on Wednesday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Jordan Hendrix was on a motorcycle trip in North Carolina on Monday, camping and enjoying the roads on his Kawasaki ZRX1100, when he realized there was a gasoline situation.

He and his friends heard something on the news, but they didn’t think it was too drastic. Then they needed to fill up. Station after station had long lines, low supply — or no supply. Finally, after multiple efforts and a couple of 25-minute waits, all of their bikes were full.

“We had no idea that it was that serious until all of a sudden we couldn’t find fuel anywhere,” said Hendrix, 32, of Indianapolis. Instead of staying until Wednesday morning, the group left Tuesday and started the long drive back, leaving the petrol problems behind.

“We left early because of that,” he said. “We didn’t want to get stranded in North Carolina.”

Travelers in the southeast United States could face a similar fate in the wake of a cyberattack on a key pipeline that has fueled panic buying in several states. The Colonial Pipeline, which supplies the East Coast with almost half of its fuel, restarted operations Wednesday afternoon but said it would take “several days” to get back to normal.

Panic buying strikes Southeastern United States as shuttered pipeline resumes operations

According to crowdsourced data from the gas-station-finder app GasBuddy, fuel shortages were reported in 14 states as of Thursday afternoon. Some of the strains on supply were severe: In D.C., 73 percent of stations had outages, followed by 68 percent in North Carolina, 52 percent in South Carolina, 51 percent in Virginia, 49 percent in Georgia, 36 percent in Maryland and 33 percent in Tennessee. The skyrocketing demand is also driving prices up in the affected areas.

Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, said in an email that outages shouldn’t spread to other areas.

“But panic and fear is a powerful emotion,” he said. De Haan said it could be a few weeks before everything is back to normal — more of a short-term headache than a long-term problem.

People who are planning road trips do need to anticipate the reality of gasoline supplies being limited or even nonexistent,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group. “If you don’t have to take a road trip in the next 7 to 10 days, don’t.”

“If you don’t have to take a road trip in the next 7 to 10 days, don’t.”
— Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst

For people who finally feel comfortable enough to travel again, the fuel outage is the latest hiccup to getting back on the road. A shortage of rental cars has made it difficult to find vehicles or extremely expensive in some popular destinations.

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While the pipeline issue was mostly affecting drivers, some air travel has been affected as well. American Airlines said Monday it was adding a stop to two long flights out of Charlotte, Reuters reported. The news agency said the airline was resuming the nonstop service on Thursday. Other airlines and airports were taking extra measures to make sure they had enough fuel, CNBC reported.

“If the gas shortage continues to drag on, we’ll likely see airlines have to take more drastic measures, including canceling flights,” Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of “Take More Vacations,” said in an email.

Danny Finkel, chief travel officer at the travel management platform TripActions, said air travelers should make sure to confirm their plans before departure in case of any changes. He said that if the outage were to become a longer-term problem, it could have an impact on pricing.

It wasn’t clear how serious an impact the pipeline shutdown was having on travel plans. A festival devoted to hotrods and custom cars was canceled in Maggie Valley, N.C., and a local hotel has seen some cancellations as a result, according to local TV station WLOS.

Jon Gray, chief executive of the RV rental company RVshare, says the shortage does not appear to have put road trippers off their plans.

“Yesterday was our biggest booking day of the year so far (which is typical for this time of year),” Gray said in an email Wednesday.

Jen Moyse, senior director of product for TripIt from Concur, the travel organizing app, said those with imminent road trips in the area may need to change their plans to visit a destination they can get to and from with one tank of gas.

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“Rescheduling the road trip for later in the summer, once the pipeline is restored, might also be the safest option,” she said in an email.

Experts said travelers should use online tools like GasBuddy to find out where gas stations are (and whether they have fuel).

Harteveldt said those who must drive should try to extend their gas mileage by running their fan without air conditioning, avoiding rush hour, staying on highways if possible and not driving too fast.

“If there’s good news to the timing of this, it’s that it didn’t happen during Memorial Day, it didn’t happen during the peak summer season when a lot more people would be on the roads,” he said. “That would be even more disruptive.”

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