Airlines carried record number of passengers in 2016

NEW YORK - U.S. and foreign airlines in the United States carried a record number of passengers in 2016, according to the government office that tracks airline traffic, besting the previous all-time high by 3.5 percent.

U.S.-serving airlines carried 928.9 million domestic and international passengers, topping the previous record of 897.9 million set in 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation said on Monday.

Air travel has risen steadily following several challenging years for the industry post-9/11, as cheaper fares and a strengthened U.S. economy have made affordable flights more widely accessible.

Last year’s growth, the agency said, was the result of a 3.3 percent increase from 2015 in the number of passengers on domestic flights and a 4 percent jump in the number of travelers to and from the United States.

Travel is also projected to hit a record high this spring, according to industry trade organization Airlines for America, with 145 million passengers expected to fly globally on U.S. carriers between March 1 and April 30.

Southwest Airlines (LUV) had the most total system passengers last year than any other U.S. airline. On international flights to and from the U.S., American Airlines (AAL) carried more passengers than any other U.S. or foreign carrier. Among foreign airlines, on flights to and from the U.S., British Airways flew the most passengers.

For the most part, financial results have been solid for carriers, which have become adept at cutting costs. A slide in fuel prices has helped. In 2016, for example, Southwest saw earnings climb almost 3 percent, continuing a trend.

“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,” said A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich.