WASHINGTON, March 25, 2019 – Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, is expecting an all-time high of 158.2 million passengers – 2.59 million per day – to fly globally on U.S. airlines between March 1 and April 30. This marks a 4.3 percent increase from the same period last year when 151.7 passengers took to the skies. Because of this record-high spring season, domestic airlines are adding 129,000 additional seats per day across their networks to accommodate 106,000 more daily passengers.
“Low fares, abundant air service and a healthy economy continue to attract a record number of travelers to the skies,” said A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich. “We’re in a period of unprecedented access to air travel – flyers of all income levels have a wide array of products and providers to choose from when traveling from one city to another or one country to another.”
In 2018, U.S. airlines transported record passenger and cargo volumes. Department of Transportation (DOT) data through the third quarter of 2018 showed inflation-adjusted airfares falling to new lows, as airlines across the spectrum added capacity faster than the economy and competition intensified in tens of thousands of domestic city pairs.
More Americans Are Taking to the Skies than Ever
As the U.S. economy continues to grow, Americans are taking to the skies and reporting high overall satisfaction with their flight experience.
In 2018, according to A4A-commissioned research by Ipsos Public Affairs, 87 percent of Americans reported having flown in their lifetimes, up from 81 percent in 1997 and just 49 percent in 1971. Nearly 50 percent reported having flown at least once in the past year, up from 39 percent in 1997. A majority of Americans reported they are traveling by air for personal reasons (72 percent), including vacations. The research also showed that overall flyer satisfaction in 2018 remained above 80 percent, with even higher levels for those enrolled in a trusted traveler program such as Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
U.S. Airlines Continue to Invest in Products, Employees and Airports
With growing demand, U.S. airlines are taking steps to ensure that passenger satisfaction remains high from check-in to touchdown, with increased levels of staffing, product enhancement and collaboration with airport partners.
From 2010 to 2018, U.S. airlines invested 75 percent of operating cash back into the product, while retiring debt and returning cash to shareholders. Nearly $121 billion was used to enhance the product and improve the passenger experience, with new airplanes and ground equipment, improved facilities, complimentary in-flight entertainment options, upgraded security lanes at airport checkpoints, innovative technology as well as more gourmet food and beverage choices.
December 2018 marked the 62nd consecutive month of year-over-year U.S. passenger airline employment gains. In 2018, on average, the industry employed 438,000 full-time equivalent workers – up nearly 16 percent from 2010 – with competitive pay and benefits in career-track jobs.
Airport investment is booming across the country, with numerous capital projects completed, underway or approved at a significant number of small, medium and major U.S. airports. From 2001 through 2017, U.S. airports spent $165 billion on capital improvement projects, and tens of billions of dollars in additional airport projects are underway or approved at airports around the country.
A4A has long advocated against raising taxes on the flying public, citing the many highly-funded resources available to airports for new projects, including $3.3 billion in revenue from the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) in 2017 alone, more than $14.5 billion in unrestricted cash reserves and investments and the funds available through the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF), which has an uncommitted balance of nearly $7 billion, growing to a record $8.7 billion by the end of 2020. Airports, thanks to these funds and other financial investments from airline partners, have no need to increase the tax burden on travelers who choose to fly.
U.S. Airlines Report Strong 2018 Operational Performance
Even with record high passenger volumes in 2018, U.S. airlines reported solid operational performance for the year, including the lowest rate of involuntary denied boardings -ever recorded, down to 0.14 per 10,000 passengers. The rate of customer complaints fell for a third straight year, with less than 1 complaint to DOT per 100,000 passengers. Baggage handling also remains improved since 2015, with reports of 2.78 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. Amid difficult severe weather in 2018, which the FAA reported rose 18 percent from 2017 alone, the on-time arrival rate fell to 79.4 percent.
U.S. airlines recovered $0.73 in revenue for every $1.00 increase in operating costs, including a 58 percent year-over-year increase in fuel costs. 2018 expenses rose faster than revenues, reducing the industry’s pretax profit margin to 8.2 percent, just over half of the U.S. average of 15.2 percent.