DALLAS – An airline industry trade group says that even with higher fares, more people will fly this summer than last year, especially overseas.
The Air Transport Association said Monday that it expects 206 million passengers will travel on U.S. airlines in June, July and August, a 1.5 percent increase over the same months in 2010.
If the forecast is right, travel will remain below pre-recession levels. In 2007, U.S. airlines carried a record 217 million summer travelers.
The airline trade group expects minimal growth in domestic travel this summer, but a record 26.3 million passengers on international flights operated by U.S. airlines, topping 2010's 25.8 million. The group said that's partly due to stronger economies outside the U.S. And, while driving is an option for summer trips in this country, Americans must fly to get to Europe or Asia.
Airlines have raised fares more than a half-dozen times this year to cover a 30 percent increase in fuel prices. The average round-trip domestic fare last summer was $340, according to government figures. It could be $375 or more this summer if fares rise again as much as they did last summer. That's not counting fees passengers might pay for checked bags, roomier seats and the other items.
Some airline executives have publicly wondered how much more consumers can take. John Heimlich, chief economist for the air-transport group, noted that passenger revenue rose in the first quarter, which he said indicated that people are still willing to travel, even at the higher fares.
But Helane Becker, an analyst with Dahlman Rose & Co., said since most leisure travelers book far in advance, the higher airfares forced some people to plan Memorial Day trips that don't involve flying.
U.S. airlines lost $1 billion in the first quarter of this year. Still, if summer travel matches the forecasts, and if the recent drop in oil prices sticks, the airlines are likely to avoid a repeat of 2008, when record fuel prices spurred talk about which airlines were most likely to go bankrupt.
"We don't see the same level of panic," Heimlich said. "It's a smoother summer and sort of a feeling of, 'We've seen this before.'"