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May 22, 2019, 6:23 a.m. EDT

Airlines gear up for record number of passengers this summer — and crowds

More people are poised to take advantage of low fares

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By Jacob Passy


RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images
Get ready to encounter major crowds at U.S. airports when traveling this summer.

Planning to fly to your summer vacation destination? Prepare for crowds.

A record 257.4 million passengers are expected to travel on U.S. airlines this summer, according to a new report from Airlines for America , a trade organization that represents the airline industry. That’s up 3.4% from 248.8 million passengers last summer, which was the record at the time.

This year is set to be the 10th consecutive year in which the number of airline passengers over the summer will increase from the previous year. They’re attracted by increased competition and low fares, said John Heimlich, chief economist and vice president at Airlines for America.

Don’t miss: The U.S. grounds the Boeing 737 Max aircraft — what that means for air travelers

Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics show that the 2018 average domestic airfare was $350 , the lowest inflation-adjusted annual fare since the federal agency began collecting these records in 1995. Domestic fares were down 15.9% from 2014.

The average domestic airfare was $350 in 2018, the lowest inflation-adjusted price since 1995.

New tools are making it easier for passengers to map out the cheapest flights possible. But low airfares do come with trade-offs. Seats are getting smaller to accommodate more passengers on each plane, and airlines are getting better about ensuring that flights are as full as possible.

Airfares are also cheaper because newer planes are more fuel efficient, and airlines have gotten better at identifying routes that are unpopular. Plus, the growth of low-cost airlines like Spirit /zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite SAVE +10.18%  and Frontier ensures that their competitors must drop fares along the same routes to compete.

Travelers still need to exercise caution when booking. Other flight fees are rising as many airlines have turned to “unbundling” services in order to offer attractively low ticket prices.

Passengers pay for these “amenities” that once were included in the price of a ticket, such as checking bags or using overhead storage bins. When those fees are added all up, consumer advocates say, a cheap plane ticket may not be as good of a deal as it first appeared.

Shares of Spirit are down 16.38% year-to-date, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.44%  and S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.05%  are up 10.78% and 14.27% respectively.

/zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 17.53
+1.62 +10.18%
Volume: 20.58M
July 10, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
4.78
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$1.41 billion
Rev. per Employee
$431,115
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/zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime
US : Dow Jones Global
26,075.30
+369.21 +1.44%
Volume: 337.36M
July 10, 2020 5:09p
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
3,185.04
+32.99 +1.05%
Volume: 2.41B
July 10, 2020 5:09p
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Jacob Passy is a personal-finance reporter for MarketWatch and is based in New York.

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