Air travel traffic over the Labor Day holiday is expected to rise 3 percent compared with last year, to 14.2 million passengers, as airlines in the U.S. continue to add seats and upgrade aircraft during an era of industry prosperity and increased scrutiny.
During the seven-day Labor Day travel period, Sept. 2-8, the industry expects 2 million air travelers per day, about 59,000 more daily compared with last year. Friday, Sept. 4, is expected to be the busiest day for flying.
The group previously predicted an all-time high for summer air travel, and numbers so far show the industry is on pace to see that, said John Heimlich, chief economist for Airlines for America, the primary airline industry trade group in the U.S.
That strong demand and low fuel prices are driving an unusual period of prosperity for the airline industry, Heimlich said.
He said airlines have finally achieved profitability on par with the average of other large companies, those in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. That profitability has enabled airlines to buy new planes and add service and technology at the highest rate in 15 years, the group said.
It has also invited scrutiny.
The U.S. Department of Justice said it is investigating the nation’s largest airlines for possible collusion. The investigation reportedly focuses on alleged coordination among airlines to limit available seats, which keeps airfares high.
Those effects haven’t shown up yet, according to data the industry provided Tuesday.
Domestic fares, measured by the price to fly a mile, fell 1.9 percent in the first six months of this year and were down 4.2 percent and 5.5 percent in May and June, the industry said. However, airlines also derive revenue from such add-on fees as checked bags and seats with extra leg room.
Seating capacity slightly outpaced passenger traffic in the first half of the year, with planes 82.8 percent full on average, down from 83.2 percent during the same period last year.
During the first half of the year, healthy airline profits were boosted almost entirely by lower fuel costs, which fell 34 percent year-over-year, more than offsetting a 10 percent increase in wages and benefits for airline employees, the group reported.
U.S. airlines are receiving new and refurbished aircraft at a rate of nearly one per day.

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