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Jessica Plautz
March 14, 2018

Students aren't the only ones taking a break this spring.

Airlines for America estimates 150.7 million passengers around the world will fly on U.S. airlines from March 1 to April 30, a four-percent increase over the same period last year. The airline trade association released its spring travel forecast for 2018 on Wednesday, reporting that airlines have added a combined 114,000 seats per day to accommodate the growth.

In 2017, airlines set a passenger record, and this year looks set to break the record again. That's good news for passengers looking for a deal, as the growth has been fueled by increased competition.

As more passengers head up into the skies, airfares have continued to come down: Domestic airfares were more than 40 percent less in 2017 compared to 1980, according to Airlines for America.

That's including extra (ancillary) fees, like those for baggage and seat assignments.

“There has never been a better time to fly, as evidenced by the record number of 151 million flyers expected to travel this spring,” A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich said in a statement, attributing the growth to “persistently low fares, unsurpassed levels of investment in the product, increasing competition, and unprecedented access for passengers of all regions, age groups, and income levels.”

The trade association points out that in 1977, 63 percent of Americans had flown at least in their lifetime, and just 25 percent had taken a flight that year. Compare that to today, when 88 percent of the population has flown in their lifetime, and 48 percent have done so in the last year, and it's hard to argue that air travel — even with all the headaches and fees — has gotten anything but more accessible.

In its announcement on Wednesday, Airlines for America highlighted the role budget airlines have played in the expanding industry: “The presence of low-cost and ultra-low-cost carriers continues to expand in airports across the country, prompting larger, more established carriers to respond with basic economy products of their own to satisfy the burgeoning demand for no-frills fares.”

Competition has been increasing at airports across the U.S. in recent years, which is great news for budget-minded travelers. Since 2000, the average number of airlines on domestic passengers' itineraries has increased from 3.33 to 3.53.

While decades of airline consolidation are unlikely to be reversed, these upstarts — as well as increased service and competition among the big four (American, United, Delta, Southwest) — are making this year a great time to travel. It would seem that, this spring, 151 million passengers agree.

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