Airlines brace for record spring travel season

Airlines brace for record spring travel season
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The airline industry is bracing for a record spring travel season, the same time of year that saw massive security lines in 2016.

An estimated 145 million passengers are expected to fly on U.S. airlines from March 1 to April 30, up 4 percent from the previous spring, according to Airlines for Americas (A4A).

The trade association said airlines are preparing to accommodate the 89,000 extra daily passengers by adding 110,000 extra seats per day.

The rise in demand is being attributed to low fares, an improving economy, decreasing unemployment and low fuel prices.

“There has never been a better time to fly, as evidenced by the record levels of traffic U.S. airlines saw in 2016 and will see again this spring,” said John Heimlich, A4A’s vice president and chief economist.

“While historically low fares, reliable operations and several consecutive years of reinvestment in the product are the primary factors underlying this growth, a boost in U.S. employment and personal incomes and the highest-ever level of household net worth are also fueling the strong demand for air travel.”

The spring travel season is when the airport security line crisis began to emerge last year, with wait times as long as three hours at some airports. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had cut its screening staff in anticipation of high enrollment in the agency’s expedited PreCheck program, but not enough travelers signed up.

Congress had to allow the TSA to shift around money in its budget to hire new staff. The TSA ramped up advertising for PreCheck and set up command centers to better track travel volumes and dispatch resources as needed.

A4A is expecting airlines and airports to be far more prepared to handle the travel volume this spring though, with continued efforts to expand PreCheck enrollment, regular communication with TSA and new screening technology being tested around the country.

But A4A said more work still needs to be done, and is urging the administration to “think outside the box” when it comes to boosting PreCheck enrollments. One example is to allow family members to sign up for free or for a reduced price.

Airlines are also expanding service by adding new nonstop routes.

Last year, U.S. and foreign airlines added 198 new routes and discontinued 161 routes, resulting in a net growth of 37 nonstop routes. Airlines this year have already added 151 new routes, while discontinuing 134 routes, for a net growth of 17 routes.

“Airlines recognize how important flight availability is to their customers and are working to benefit the millions of daily passengers they serve with expanded routes and more seat supply,” Heimlich said.

“These expanded routes and the growth in air service at airports of all sizes serve as a reminder of the important role airlines play in connecting communities across America.”