Are you flying somewhere over the holidays? You’ll have plenty of company: The U.S. airline industry is predicting a substantial increase in passenger traffic for the year-end holiday period. And the airlines’ global trade organization sees continuing growth and prosperity into the New Year for its members – while passengers can look forward to more crowded planes and higher fares.
Airlines for America (A4A), the trade group for U.S, carriers, says it expects the number of passengers over the year-end holiday period to increase by 1.7 million over the same period a year ago, or 3.5 percent. That means a total of 51 million air travelers during the holidays, which A4A defines as the 21 days from December 15 to January 4.
The biggest airport crowds will be seen on the Thursday and Friday before Christmas (December 21 and 22), A4A said, with a passenger volume of 2.7 million each day. That compares with a typical daily passenger count of 2.25 million in 2016. The organization noted that U.S. airlines are scheduling thousands of extra seats over the holiday period by adding more departures and using larger aircraft on their busiest routes.
The least busy travel days will be December 16, December 24, December 25, and January 31, A4A said. The organization noted that more people are traveling this season than last year due to “an improving economy and sub-inflation air fares.”
All this adds up to increased prosperity for the airlines, a trend that will accelerate in 2018, according to the International Air Transport Association, the airlines’ global trade group.
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In a new report, IATA said North American airlines are expected to see net profits of $16.4 billion in 2018, up from $15.6 billion this year. North American carriers are expected to increase capacity by 3.4 percent next year, IATA said, while traffic is expected to grow by 3.5 percent.
And what happens when passenger demand increases faster than passenger capacity? Fares go up. IATA said that North American airlines lead the world in financial performance, accounting for almost half the total profits of the global airline industry.
The same trend will be seen globally, IATA said, with 2018 passenger numbers expected to grow 6 percent to 4.3 billion. That’s on top of a 7.5 percent increase this year. But worldwide airline capacity is expected to increase only 5.7 percent next year. “This will push up the average load factor to a record 81.4 percent, helping to drive a 3 percent improvement in yields,” IATA said. Worldwide, the group expects airlines’ average net profit per passenger to increase from $8.45 this year to $8.90 in 2018. Translation: Fewer empty seats and higher fares in the New Year.