Spring air travel expected to set new record

The nation’s airlines expect to set a new record for spring travel this year, with nearly 145 million travelers taking to the air.

The projected number of spring travelers is a 4% increase over the nearly 140 million passengers who flew last year between March 1 and April 30 on U.S.-based airlines, according to a forecast released Monday by the trade group Airlines for America.

The travel growth is attributed to improved employment levels, higher personal income in the U.S. and airfares that have dropped or remained stable, said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for Airlines for America.

Since the 2007-2009 recession, the number of passengers on U.S.-based airlines has been growing steadily, with a record 823 million travelers flying in all of 2016.

Thanks mostly to lower fuel costs, the nation’s nine largest airlines reported a combined pretax profit margin of 14.2% in 2016, down from 14.7% in 2015, according to Airlines for America. In 2014, the 10 largest carriers reported a 4.6% profit margin, according to the trade group.

“There has never been a better time to fly, as evidenced by the record levels of traffic U.S. airlines saw in 2016 and will see again this spring,” Heimlich said.

The average domestic airfare was $344 in the third quarter of 2016, a 8.8% drop compared with an average of $377 in the third quarter of 2015, adjusted for inflation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The bureau, however, does not calculate the overall increase or the total revenue generated by all passenger fees, including charges for food and entertainment.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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