Airlines expect record numbers for spring travel

WASHINGTON – Airlines are projecting a record spring travel season, the trade group Airlines for America said Wednesday

The group forecast 140 million passengers during March and April, a 3% rise compared to the same period a year ago. That total would be the highest ever for spring travel, topping the 136.2 million passengers who flew during March and April of 2015, the group said.

“The continued growth in passenger volumes can be attributed to the accessibility and affordability of air travel today,” said John Heimlich, the group’s chief economist. “To meet the extra demand, airlines are deploying new and larger aircraft on many routes.”

Ten publicly traded airlines reported a combined $23.2 billion in pre-tax earnings during 2015, which led to complaints about fares not dropping along with fuel prices.

But fares are generally lower during the last decade when factoring in inflation. Airlines invested $17 billion on improvements such as new aircraft, in-flight entertainment and ground equipment, Heimlich said.

“They are reinvesting improving cash flows to benefit customers, employees and investors,” Heimlich said. “With more reliable operations, lower airfares, more seats in the marketplace and a steady stream of new and larger aircraft, airlines are seeing a record number travelers,exceeding 790 million last year.”

The estimated spring increase of 63,000 passengers per day is comparable to what the Transportation Security Administration projected for spring break.

Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president for legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America, urged TSA to reduce wait-times in the short term through better staffing assignments during peak travel times and additional canine teams.

“We need to make sure they’re going to the right spaces,” Pinkerton said. “We urge TSA to focus on short-term wins to try to make sure that we keep those wait-times reasonable.”