Airlines for America (A4A) has announced that it expects 16.5 million passengers to fly worldwide on U.S. carriers over the weeklong Labor Day travel period that extends today through Tuesday, September 4. This would constitute a 3.5 percent increase from the 16 million passengers estimated to have flown over the same holiday period last year.
To accommodate the expected 2.36 million daily passengers—up 79,000 a day from 2017—airlines will offer 2.76 million seats per day across their networks, an increase of 92,000 each day over last year's scheduled service. Friday, August 31 is expected to be the busiest travel day of the week, with an estimated 2.76 million passengers flying onboard U.S. airlines worldwide, followed by Thursday, August 30 and Monday, September 3, with 2.6 and 2.58 million passengers traveling, respectively. The two lightest days are expected to be Saturday, September 1 and Sunday, September 2, which are also historically among the lightest days of the year.
"2018 has been an exceptionally busy year for air travel, with 20 out of the 25 busiest days ever recorded by the Transportation Security Administration occurring so far this year," said A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich. "Record numbers of travelers are taking to the skies in large part due to widespread affordability, with inflation-adjusted fares in the first quarter of 2018 averaging 8 percent, or $30, below Q1 2010."
Airlines’ Strong Operational Performance
Despite a challenging operational environment so far in 2018, airlines have reported strong operational metrics for Q1 2018, A4A said, including the lowest-ever recorded rate of involuntary denied boardings, down to 1.2 per 100,000 passengers from 6.2 per 100,000 passengers in 2017. The on-time arrival rate from January to May also improved, from 79.17 percent in 2017 to 80.12 percent this year. The properly handled bag rate dipped slightly, from 99.74 percent in Q1 2017 to 99.71 in 2018, as well as the flight completion factor, from 98.47 percent in 2017 to 98.05 in 2018.
Throughout 2018, the rate of customer complaints to the Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to fall, from 1.19 per 100,000 passengers in Q1 2017 to 0.98 per 100,000 in Q1 2018. Even in April and May of this year, the number of complaints has continued to decline, to 0.89 and 0.82 DOT complaints per 100,000, respectively.
As jet fuel prices climb, airline profitability continues to decline, with expenses growing nearly twice as fast as revenues again in the first half (1H) of 2018. Fuel expenses rose 31.1 percent, airport expenses rose 7.1 percent and labor rose 5.7 percent. Consequently, U.S. airlines pre-tax profit margins fell from 11.5 percent in 1H 2017 to 7.2 percent in 1H 2018.