empty airplane

Fewer people flew in 2009

The global economic downturn took 68.6 million scheduled airline passengers out of the USA’s skies over the last two years.  Last year, 769.6 million travelers boarded planes in the U.S. or planes bound for the U.S., according to new data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That’s down 5.3% from 812.3 million passengers in 2008 and down 8.2% from the record 838.2 million air travelers in the U.S. market in 2007.


The total number of passengers on domestic and foreign-owned airlines in the U.S. market last year fell below the 800 million mark for the first time since 2004, when 763.7 million travelers flew on planes in, out and around the country.

The sharp, two-year decline in demand for seats plus an average fare difference of at least $30 per ticket meant travelers in the U.S. market spent an estimated $2 billion less on airfares in 2009 than they did in 2007.

Higher spending by passengers on ancillary services, such as food and checking bags, partially offset the drop in revenue from fares for the airlines.

In 2007, the average airfare in the U.S. market was almost $346, according to bureau data. The agency hasn’t said what the average ticket price was in 2009.

But based on the average prices reported for domestic tickets through nine months last year, the 2009 average fare for both domestic and international trips is likely less than $315.

“It’s not surprising we saw such a significant reduction (in travel),” says analyst and consultant Julius Maldutis at Aviation Dynamics.

Eleven U.S. airlines that Maldutis follows posted a combined net loss of almost $4.6 billion last year as fewer people traveled because of the economy.

The big question is whether airlines will see travelers return to the skies.

“I think we will,” Maldutis says. “But it’s going to be much slower than many people suspect.”

Air travel, he says, “has always depended on the course of the economy.”

Although the U.S. economy seems to be recovering slowly, some analysts fret it could slow down late this year or early next year.

If that happens, Maldutis says, airline passenger traffic will stall out.

To reduce their exposure to the recession, airlines in 2009 shrank fleets and cut service. There were just over 10 million flights last year compared with 10.73 million in 2008.

Via USA Today