airplane takeoff sky flight
Credit: Getty Images/First Light

Airlines today are taking more people to more places for less money — and 2018 is looking bright for travelers who want to continue to explore the world.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported on the performance of the airline industry at its headquarters in Geneva this week, revealing that airlines served more than 20,000 city-pair connections this year.

That's 1,351 more connections than in 2016, and twice as many as in 1996. (City pairs are any two cities connected by airline service, even if those cities have more than one airport. For example, London-New York City is one city pair, even though each has three airports.)

At the same time, the cost for air travel, adjusted for inflation, has dropped by half over the past 20 years, while the costs of most things we buy day-to-day have more than doubled. IATA predicts that airfares will stay flat — again adjusting for inflation — even as airlines adjust to higher costs of fuel, staff, and supplies.

On average, airlines around the world make less than $9.00 per passenger in net profit, according to IATA. U.S. airlines, which earn the most from each passenger flown, make $16.67 in net profit from each passenger.

And another thing to expect in 2018: Planes will be more crowded. IATA expects 4.3 billion people to fly in 2018, and load factors — the number of seats on a plane that are occupied — will average 81.4 percent.

The increasing number of air travelers is good news for destinations around the world. IATA expects that international tourists traveling by air will spend more than $776 billion in 2018, 15% higher than tourist spending in 2015 and more than double what tourists spent in 2000.

“These are good times for the global air transport industry,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of IATA. “It’s still, however, a tough business and we are being challenged on the cost front by rising fuel, labor and infrastructure expenses. The industry also faces longer-term challenges. Many of them in the hands of governments. Aviation is the business of freedom and a catalyst for growth and development. To continue to deliver on our full potential, governments need to raise their game — implementing global standards on security, finding a reasonable level of taxation, delivering smarter regulation and building the cost-efficient infrastructure to accommodate growing demand.”

IATA, which is a trade association of 278 airlines, is pushing various industry initiatives to fix the problems de Juniac referred to, including working with airports to improve on-time performance and the terminal experience, as well as working with governments to improve our experience at the security gate and border control.

Correction: The data on airfare prices for 2018 has been corrected from an earlier version of thist story.