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Air Travel Demand Heats Up With Summer; Fares Are Flat

During the worst of the Great Recession, summer travel plummeted as Americans chose backyard "staycations" over faraway vacations.

This year, millions of families are shaking off their reluctance to take big trips: Airlines say they are now expecting the busiest summer ever.

An estimated 222 million passengers will board planes between June 1 and Aug. 31, up 4.5 percent from last summer, according to Airlines for America, the trade group for large U.S. carriers. The previous peak of 217 million travelers was hit in 2007, just before the recession began.

The travel surge brought joy to the heart of John Heimlich, the group's chief economist.

"It probably is the happiest I've been in a while," Heimlich told reporters at a Monday briefing. "This is an all-time high."

And here's news to make passengers at least a little happier: Also on Monday, Airlines Reporting Corp. said that ticket prices paid for Memorial Day weekend were flat for flights to U.S. destinations.

"Looking at all tickets purchased through April, U.S. domestic fares were almost exactly the same in 2015 as they were in 2014 with an average of $406," according to the research done by the company that processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies.

Heimlich said that each day this summer, an average of 2.4 million people will board planes, including 332,000 on international flights, which would also be a record.

Why more vacations this year? "The continued rise in U.S. consumer sentiment and employment is leading to more people traveling more often," Heimlich said.

The strong dollar also is making it easier for people to head overseas. The top five international nonstop destinations from the U.S. are Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

Heimlich said 13 of the 15 busiest travel days of the year fall during the summer months. The single busiest day of the year typically is the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.
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