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Americans are traveling like it’s 2019 — as airline tickets get more and more expensive

Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

  • Airline fares surged 18.6% in April, marking the largest one-month jump since 1963.
  • Rising jet fuel costs, summer travel plans, and easing restrictions all pushed prices higher.
  • TSA data shows the surge having little impact, with passenger counts still near pre-crisis levels.

Americans are flying like it’s 2019. They’re paying a whole lot more for it, too.

Prices for air travel climbed 18.6% in April, according to government data published Wednesday. That marks the largest one-month price hike since data collection began in 1963 and follows a 10.7% leap through March. The jump was so big that it alone counted for a quarter of overall inflation through April.

The increase was also enough to place airline ticket prices above their pre-pandemic levels. Air travel now costs about 13% more than it did before the health crisis. After roughly two years of travel bargains, flying is now the priciest its been since the summer of 2015.

The April price surge was powered by a combination of soaring fuel prices, summer travel demand, and an easing of pandemic restrictions. Airline fares tend to swing higher in the spring as Americans prepare for summer trips. April also saw the US reverse its mandate for mask-wearing on flights, knocking down one of the government’s last remaining pandemic-era restrictions.

Bottlenecks in the oil-refining industry, meanwhile, have boosted airlines’ fuel costs in recent weeks. While crude oil supply has swung higher, refineries are operating at maximum capacity to turn crude into finished products like gasoline and jet fuel. That’s propped up prices, and many airlines have passed that higher operating cost on to consumers.

Ticket prices may be ripping higher at a record pace, but that’s not keeping Americans from airports. TSA checkpoint figures show daily airline passengers hovering between 2 million and 2.2 million through much of April, and even matching the highs seen during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

To be sure, total travel activity is still weaker than it was before the pandemic, when daily passenger counts climbed as high as 2.6 million during the holiday season. Still, the April data is only slightly below the counts seen in April 2019, signaling the industry has all but fully recovered.

Taken together, the data show the airline industry rebounding at breakneck speed. Price growth will likely slow as jet-fuel costs ease and planning for summer travel winds down. But for now, Americans seem content to pay big for a trip away from home.

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