travellers can expect U.S. airlines’ planes to be full this summer as a record number of people make international flights, the industry association Airlines for America reported Wednesday.In its annual summer forecast, the trade group for major U.S. airlines estimated that 179.4 million passengers will fly on their planes inside the USA from June to August, largely unchanged from last summer.
However, the group predicts that 26.8 million people will travel on international flights, surpassing last summer’s record of 26.3 million passengers.
At the same time, airlines are holding down the number of seats they make available to try to meet the number of fliers. As a result, planes will be packed pretty much daily.
Each day, U.S. airlines will carry an average of 2.24 million travellers here and around the world for a total of 206.2 million passengers for the summer, the group estimates.
And although that’s more than last summer, it’s 5percent below the all-time summer high of 217.6 million passengers in 2007.
Although U.S. airlines have raised fares in recent months, the trade group says that fares have not kept pace with the inflation rate.
While inflation has risen 31percent since 2000, average domestic fares have gone up 9percent, or 15percent if ancillary services are included, the group says. When adjusted for inflation, that would be a 16percent drop, excluding the ancillary fees, it says.
“Consumers continue to benefit 2011 from air travel prices that lag increases of other goods and services,” says John Heimlich, the group’s vice president and chief economist.
The trade group also gave a first-quarter assessment of the industry, reporting that rising jet fuel costs continue to be one of the biggest challenges the airlines face.
So far this year, the price of jet fuel is 7percent higher in the first three months than in the same period last year. Jet fuel prices reached an all-time high last year.
Partly as a result of rising fuel costs, the industry reported a first quarter net loss of $1.73 billion. Fuel costs jumped 19.1percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period in 2011. Fuel accounted for one-third of operating expenses.
“The results would have been far worse if not for continued steps in the industry to adapt to (rising fuel costs) and a sluggish economy,” Heimlich says.
A key way airlines have dealt with their economic challenges is to reduce the number of seats available to travellers, which has helped keep planes full.
Heimlich says flights will likely be more than 85percent full this summer, especially in July.
Full planes often make any weather disruptions in flight schedules difficult for vacationers in the summer. Full flights make it harder for travellers to catch connecting flights or get on subsequent flights if there are delays and cancellations.
Thunderstorms are the most common cause of weather disruptions, says Tom Hendricks, the group’s senior vice president for safety, security and operations.
“While we have improved forecasting ability, it’s still a challenge with thunderstorms,” he says. “They can develop rapidly and dissipate rapidly.”
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