An average of 2.24 million people will take to the skies every day this summer, a daily increase of 34,000 compared with last year, the Air Transport Association (ATA) estimates.
The ATA forecast also shows that travelers are booking international flights in record numbers, reflecting an improving economy and the fact that air travel remains a bargain, despite higher fuel prices.
In its annual summer air travel forecast, the ATA predicts that U.S. airlines will carry a total of 206.2 million passengers from June through August, roughly 3 million (1.5 percent) more passengers than for the same period in 2010. Passenger volumes, as projected, have not recovered from their pre-recession levels of summer 2008 and remain well below the summer 2007 all-time high of 217.6 million.
“It is encouraging that more people will be flying this summer, despite higher energy prices taxing the entire economy,” said ATA President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio. “The trends are pointing in the right direction.”
An analysis of average fares over the past decade shows that there has been little to no change since 2000. In 2010, the average round-trip U.S. domestic airfare was $316. In comparison, the average fare in 2000 was $314 round-trip, a clear indication that fares have not kept pace with inflation.
The summer forecast also reveals that the number of international passengers is expected to hit a new record. Of the 206.2 million passengers expected to travel on U.S. airlines this summer, 26.3 million will be traveling on international flights. This estimate surpasses the previous record of 25.8 million passengers flown in summer 2010.
“The growth in international air travel reaffirms the pivotal role that commercial aviation plays in connecting the United States to the global economy. In the next decade, the majority of travel growth will take place outside of our borders in developing economies. To facilitate U.S. competitiveness and meet customer demand, airlines must be able to operate in an environment that is conducive to international expansion,” Calio said.
Domestically, about 180 million passengers will fly this summer, up from the 177.3 million that flew in the summer 2010. The record was set in 2007, when 192.4 million passengers flew domestically during the summer months.
Airlines remain concerned about high energy prices this summer and their effect on both demand for and the costs of providing air service, the ATA says. “Even as demand for air travel continues to improve, high and volatile energy prices could hamper recovery efforts,” Calio said.
For the first quarter, U.S. airlines paid $11.4 billion for fuel, up 30 percent from the same period in 2010. The price of jet fuel is now at its highest level since the third quarter of 2008.
ATA said it encourages passengers to consult its resource page (www.airlines.org) for recommended travel tips. In particular, travelers are advised to keep in mind the following:
• Review the website of the airline on which you are flying for respective policies, amenities, customer-service plans and flight-operation alert notifications.
• Before departing to the airport, be sure to check the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airport delay map.
• All ATA member airlines are fully compliant with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Secure Flight Program, which will mean that passengers can expect fewer security hassles at the airport.
• Remember that TSA requires that air travelers follow its 3-1-1 Rule for liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags when passing through security checkpoints, the ATA said.