Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Airfares up 12 percent since 2009

NEW YORK — The price to travel by plane in the United States rose for the fourth straight year in 2013, according to an Associated Press analysis of travel data collected from millions of flights throughout the country.

The average domestic round-trip ticket, including tax, reached $363.42 last year, up more than $7, or 2 percent, from 2012.

Airfares have risen nearly 12 percent since their low in the depths of the Great Recession in 2009, when adjusted for inflation, the analysis showed.

Ticket prices have increased as airlines eliminated unprofitable routes, packed more passengers into planes and merged with one another, providing travelers with fewer options.

Today, 84 percent of seats are filled with paying passengers, up from 82 percent in 2009.

"Anyone traveling today will know that those flights are full," said Chuck Thackston of the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines and more than 9,400 travel agencies, including websites such as Expedia and Orbitz. "Just through supply and demand, those fares will go up."

And none of this factors in the bevy of extra fees travelers now face for checking bags, getting extra legroom or even purchasing a blanket, meal or pair of headphones. The typical traveler pays $50 more round trip to check a single suitcase.

Those fees, introduced in 2008 to offset losses from rising fuel prices, now bring in $3.4 billion a year for U.S. airlines and have helped them return consistent annual profits for the past four years. An additional $2.7 billion a year is collected in reservation-change fees, with airlines charging up to $200 to revise itineraries.

On the flip side, airlines pay just over $3 a gallon for jet fuel, up from $1.89 in 2009.

Jean Medina, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the airlines' trade and lobbying group, said that over the long term, fares have not climbed as fast as inflation and that flying "remains a great bargain."

"Carriers continue to invest in their products with new planes, new services and new destinations," Medina said. "It's a great time to fly."

A wave of consolidation that started in 2008 has left four U.S. airlines — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines — controlling more than 80 percent of the domestic air-travel market.

Starting July 1, fliers will also face higher taxes. The government's security fee is currently $2.50 each way for a nonstop flight, capped at $5 each way if a traveler has a connection. This summer, that fee will be $5.60 each way whether or not there's a connection. The fee hike is estimated to cost travelers an extra $1 billion a year.

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