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A4A Projects Thanksgiving Air Travel to Rise 3 Percent to 28.5 Million Passengers in 2017

Airlines accommodate demand with 86,000 more seats per day

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WASHINGTON, November 1, 2017 – Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, today projected that 28.5 million passengers will travel on U.S. airlines during the 12-day Thanksgiving air-travel period, up 3 percent from 2016. The 2.38 million passengers per day expected to take to the skies represent an increase of 69,000 from the 2016 Thanksgiving travel period. Airlines are accommodating this increase in demand by adding 86,000 more seats in the marketplace each day, a 3.2 percent increase over 2016.

The 2017 Thanksgiving air-travel period runs from Friday, Nov. 17 through Tuesday, Nov. 28, with the busiest day projected to be Sunday, Nov. 26, with an estimated 2.88 million passengers.

“Airline passengers continue to benefit from the highly competitive air-service landscape this holiday season, as low fares and increased availability of seats continue to make air travel widely accessible,” said A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich.

Daily passenger volumes will range from 1.61 million to 2.88 million, with the busiest travel days in ranked order expected to be Sunday, Nov. 26; Wednesday, Nov. 22 and Friday, Nov. 17. The lightest travel day is expected to be Thanksgiving Day – Thursday, Nov. 23.

U.S. airlines urge Congress to stop unnecessary Passenger Facility Charge increases

As Congress considers a Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) increase on American passengers, U.S. airports collected an all-time high $28.8 billion in revenues in 2016, up 80 percent from 2000 and 7 percent from 2015, thanks to rising airport fees, rent and PFC collections from travelers. Airports collected $34.30 per passenger in 2016, up nearly 4 percent from 2015 and 49 percent from 2000, outpacing U.S. inflation growth of 39 percent.

“There is no justification to ask travelers to pay more when airports are sitting on billions of dollars they aren’t using now,” said Sharon Pinkerton, A4A Senior Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Policy. “If airports are determined to further pad their coffers at the expense of travelers, they should own it and collect it themselves rather than burying an unjustified tax hike in the price of an airline ticket.”

Pinkerton also noted that if there was truly a need for additional funding, Congress should reallocate some of the almost $6 billion sitting idle in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund that passengers have already paid.

Airlines aid in recovery efforts after devastating hurricanes

After 2017’s devastating hurricane season, U.S. airlines quickly mobilized to assist those in affected communities. Through relief flights, the transportation of emergency supplies, airline employee volunteer efforts and fundraising programs facilitated through airline mileage programs, U.S. cargo and passenger carriers transported more than 4.5 million pounds of life-saving food, water and supplies, accommodated more than 6,500 evacuees, relocated hundreds of stranded pets and relaxed travel policies to more than 80 airports in the path of the hurricanes. These hurricanes disrupted normal airline flight operations, with the largest number of cancellations occurring the day after Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, with 4,567 cancellations.

Airline profits shrink but employment continues to grow

During the first nine months of 2017, nine publicly traded U.S. passenger carriers (Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United) reported a combined pre-tax profit of $14.7 billion, resulting in a margin of 12 percent – down from $18.4 billion and 15.5 percent, respectively, in the first nine months of 2016. Although revenues for the group rose 3.8 percent, expenses rose further, up 8.1 percent, led by labor (up 8.1 percent) and fuel (up 17 percent).

According to data compiled by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, August 2017 represented the 46th consecutive month of year-over-year employment gains for U.S. passenger airlines. Through the first eight months of the year, full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) averaged 424,200 – the highest level since 2004 and a 12 percent gain from 2010.

U.S. airlines report solid operational performance

Through August 2017, the properly handled bag rate has increased to 99.74 percent, up from 99.73 percent in calendar year 2016. Involuntary denied boardings fell significantly, from 0.62 per 10,000 passengers in 2016 to 0.52 through the first half of 2017. Both the denied boarding rate and handled bag rate in 2016 were the best ever recorded. U.S. airlines completed 98.5 percent of flights through August, down slightly from 98.8 percent in 2016 and achieved an on-time arrival rate of 78.2 percent, down from 81.4 percent in 2016.

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