FAA Forecast: Airline Passenger Travel Doubling, Higher Airfares

This year’s annual forecast from the Federal Aviation Administration predicts more people will be flying in the next 20 years – and more miles will be flown, nearly double what we’re seeing now.

The FAA characterizes this as “steady, moderate growth” of between 2 percent and 3 percent per year through 2032. It will also result in higher airfares though airfare analyst Rick Seaney advises travelers not to panic and says careful shoppers will still be able to find cheap flights (see more below). Here are the passenger projections:

Listen as airfare analyst Rick Seaney explains why he says, this is no time to panic.

Number of Passengers on U.S. Airlines

  • 2011: 731 million
  • 2024: 1 billion*
  • 2032: 1.2 billion

*Note: This is three years later than earlier FAA predictions.

Higher Airfares Coming

The report points to mergers as a big reason for less capacity and it notes that “shrinking capacity will further lift fares higher in 2012.”

Why Airfares are Rising (and what you can do about it)

Airfare analyst Rick Seaney agrees, adding that “Ticket prices in the near term are likely to go up because the math is simple: less seats plus higher fuel prices and decent demand equal higher airfare.” He also notes the irony of a federal agency singling out mergers as one of the reasons for higher prices since it is the feds themselves (Dept. of Transportation, Dept. of Justice) that are responsible for giving the go-ahead for these take-overs.

However, Seaney advises travelers not to panic over ticket prices.

Analysis: Why Travelers Shouldn’t Panic over Rising Airfares

“Right now,” says Seaney, “prices are near a cap, with just a little wriggle-room on the higher side but we are not talking about 20 percent or 15 percent or even 10 percent increases in airfare.”

The bottom line, he says, is this: “If you could afford a ticket last year, you probably can afford one this year. The fact that some cannot afford it contributes to the cap on unbridled price hikes in the first place.”

Exclusive: Anatomy of an Airfare Hike

Seaney added that, “We’ll know we are in trouble with ticket prices when airlines quit having weekly airfare sales.” Does he expect that? The analyst doesn’t hesitate in the slightest. “No,” said Seaney with a smile, “I do not.”

The analyst noted that now, more than ever, the key to finding cheap flights is by being a smart shopper and Seaney mentioned his favorite tips for finding airfare deals which include shopping on Tuesday afternoons, plus traveling mid-week especially Tuesdays and Wednesdays which are usually the cheapest days to fly.


Published: March 8, 2012