WASHINGTON – The sky remains the limit for spring travel, with airlines projecting Wednesday another record-setting holiday season with nearly 151 million passengers.
The 4% year-over-year gain in travelers during March and April comes on top of a record number of travelers for all of 2017, according to Airlines for America, a trade group representing most of the largest carriers.
The average 2.47 million daily passengers means about 94,000 more passengers will be flying each day as compared to same period a year ago, according to the airline group. Airlines are responding to the increased demand by adding more flights and bigger planes on existing routes. That, the group says, will add an average of 114,000 seats each day.
“Travelers are taking to the skies this spring in record numbers, thanks to persistently low fares, unsurpassed levels of investment in the product, increasing competition, and unprecedented access for passengers of all regions, age groups, and income levels,” said John Heimlich, the group’s chief economist. “An expanding economy, employment gains and surging household net worth are also contributing to the growth in demand for air travel.”
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After the economic collapse of 2008 and 2009, airline travel has grown reliably for a decade. Domestic and international airline passengers totaled nearly 768 million in 2009 and grew to nearly 932 million in 2016, according to the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The number of passengers was on pace to top 960 million last year, with December figures not yet available, according to the bureau.
Average domestic fares dropped from a peak of $480 in 2000 to $354 through the first half of last year, as measured in 2017 dollars, according to the bureau.
Airlines invested $102 billion on planes, entertainment such as WiFi and renovated airport lounges from 2010 to 2017, according to the airline group.
Airport projects worth $130 billion are completed, underway or approved at the 30 largest airports, according to the airline group. The development includes new runways at Fort Lauderdale, Washington Dulles, Seattle, and Charlotte airports; new international facilities at Atlanta and Los Angeles; and new, expanded terminals at Miami, Las Vegas, Orlando, Honolulu, Houston, Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake City and San Francisco.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker argued at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Aviation Summit this month that the industry had been transformed to reliable profitability rather than just the beneficiary of lower fuel prices.
“We had a business in the past that was struggling to be a real business,” Parker said.
But consolidation among seven airlines with hub-and-spoke systems to three carriers made the system much more efficient for customers, he said. A large point-to-point carrier and other low-cost carriers have kept the industry “intensive competitive,” he said.
“We’re still a cyclical business,” Parker said, with peaks and valleys of costs and earnings. “But I fully believe in those times it will be a profitable business, unlike it was in the past.”