US air travel hit record high in 2016

US air travel hit record high in 2016
© Greg Nash

Airlines carried a record-high number of passengers in the United States last year, surpassing the previous record by 3.5 percent, according to new federal data.

A total of 928.9 million domestic and international travelers flew on U.S. and foreign air carriers in 2016, beating the previous record of 897.9 million in 2015, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Monday.

The latest uptick stems from a 3.3 percent rise in domestic flights and a 4 percent increase in passengers flying on foreign airlines to and from the U.S.

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The statistics come as the airline industry braces for a record spring travel season, with an estimated 145 million passengers expected to fly on U.S. airlines from March 1 to April 30, according to Airlines for Americas (A4A). That would represent a 4 percent jump from the previous spring.

The growing demand for air travel 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 DOT also released data on the highest-volume airlines and airports last year.

Southwest Airlines carried more passengers in 2016 than any other U.S. airline, while American Airlines carried more passengers on international flights than any other U.S. or foreign carrier. Among foreign airlines, British Airways carried the most passengers on flights to and from the U.S.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International saw more passengers board planes in 2016 than any other U.S. airport. When it comes to international flights, more passengers boarded planes at New York John F. Kennedy International than any other U.S. airport.