The average number of 2.4 million travelers per day would include 332,000 on international flights, which the group said would also be a record.
“With 13 of the 15 busiest air travel days of the year falling in the summer months, U.S. airlines are well-prepared to accommodate the increased travel demand by adding flights and seats, and deploying new and larger aircraft, along with a boost in staffing to enhance the customer experience,” said John Heimlich, chief economist for Airlines for America.
The busiest day is the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the third busiest is the Friday before Memorial Day, Heimlich said. But otherwise, the most heavily traveled days fall on Thursdays and Fridays from mid-June to early August, he said.
“It probably is the happiest I’ve been in a while,” Heimlich said. “This is an all-time high
Jim Corridore, equity analyst at S&P Capital IQ, said airlines are enjoying a windfall from low fuel prices at a time of strong demand for tickets while still managing the number of seats available to keep planes full.
“They’re benefiting from the consolidation that they undertook over the past decade,” Corridore said. “Consumers are feeling a little bit better about things and businesses are traveling more, so flights are pretty full.”
With more than 4 million tickets sold between Memorial and Labor day holidays, fares remained flat compared to last year for domestic flights and fell slightly for European flights, according to a report by the Airlines Reporting Corp.
“We’re seeing fares fall to Europe from the U.S. this summer chiefly because there’s been a 6% rise in available seats, and airlines are competing to fill those additional seats,” said Chuck Thackston, managing director of enterprise information management at Airlines Reporting Corp.
Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, respectively, are the five top international nonstop destinations from the United States, according to published airline schedules. Top domestic destinations are New York, Los Angeles and Denver.
The passenger growth comes as 10 publicly traded airlines reported $3.1 billion in profit during the first quarter, for a 1.1% gain over the same period a year ago. The 10 airlines are scheduled to take delivery of 367 new aircraft this year, which is the most in 15 years, Heimlich said.
Airlines plan to add 4.6% more capacity this year, meaning an average 126,000 more seats each day. Corridore said planes are flying with a record portion of seats sold, an average of seven out of eight seats full.
“On a practical basis, flights are already completely full,” Corridore said. “People don’t get open middle seats any more.”