Last year, 43.4 million customers were estimated to have traveled by air.
To accommodate the increased demand for air travel, airlines are adding seats to the market, principally through the use of larger aircraft. Planes are projected to be 80 percent to 90 percent full over the winter holiday period, with the busiest travel days expected to be Friday, Dec. 20; Friday, Dec. 27; Thursday, Dec. 26; and Friday, Jan. 3, respectively. The lightest travel days are expected to be Wednesday, Dec. 25; Tuesday, Dec. 24; Tuesday, Dec. 31; and Wednesday, Jan. 1. Passenger volumes are expected to range from 1.74 million to 2.31 million during the 21-day period.
A4A also reported a trend of strong industry operational performance, with U.S. carriers collectively completing more than 99 percent of scheduled flights and posting an on-time arrival rate of 84 percent for the months of September and October, according to the most recent report by the Department of Transportation. US carriers delivered the best baggage performance ever recorded, with the highest rate of baggage delivered successfully, and only 2.52 bags per 1,000 enplaned passengers mishandled despite the fact that the average customer checked 1.4 percent more bags.
“U.S. airlines and their employees are well prepared to serve their customers during the upcoming winter holiday travel season, adding seats and continuing to leverage technology and social media to communicate with passengers to provide a smooth and enjoyable travel experience,” said John Heimlich, Vice President and Chief Economist for Airlines for America. “It is a great time to fly as airfares remain intensely competitive and operational performance is strong.”
Heimlich noted that airline capital expenditures at the 10 largest U.S. passenger airlines have more than doubled from $430 million per month in 2010 to $965 million per month in 2013.
“U.S. airlines are investing in the future, with significant benefit to air travelers as modest profits are expended on modern aircraft and airport facilities, premium seating, inflight Wi-Fi and entertainment, improved mobile technology, new bag systems and ground equipment for operational reliability and more,” Heimlich said. “Additionally, U.S. carriers plan to reinvest approximately $32 billion in capital improvements over the next three years, further demonstrating the direct link between consistent industry profitability and the benefit to airline customers, employees, investors and the overall economy.”
At the same time, the industry continues to grapple with volatile jet-fuel prices, which recently reached their highest level in three months. Every penny increase in a gallon of fuel costs the industry $180 million per year.
Also challenging airline profitability is the excessive tax burden the government imposes on the airlines and its customers, including the most recent increase of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) security tax from $2.50 per segment to $5.60 per one-way trip as part of the proposed Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.
“While we recognize the difficulty that is involved in restoring certainty to the budget process, it is unfortunate and disappointing that the airlines and our customers are being saddled with a tax increase, which serves only to drive up the cost air travel,” said Heimlich.
Heimlich noted the TSA tax increase further demonstrates the need for a National Airline Policy that includes key pillars to enhance the customer experience by reducing delays and rationalizing the federal tax burden, which drives up the cost of air travel.
As part of its annual Winter Holiday Travel Forecast, today A4A also introduced an Infographic that breaks the 21-day period down by the numbers and offers a series of holiday travel tips online for customers to prepare, noting they should also be aware of programs in place, such as TSA Pre✓™ and the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry, which allow enrolled travelers to benefit from expedited screening procedures. Additionally, A4A encourages customers to check with their carrier on specific in-flight policies, particularly regarding the use of portable electronic devices, as well as sign up to receive check-in and flight status updates and information via available email, text or voice alerts.