Airfares hit record low

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

3rd-quarter figures reflect pandemic-driven travel decline

Average airfare hit a record low in the third quarter of last year with the pandemic-driven decline in travel.

The average U.S. domestic airfare was $245 in the July-to-September quarter of 2020, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That’s the lowest average quarterly airfare on record, based on inflation-adjusted data going back to 1995, and marked a nearly 30% decline from $349 a year earlier. The third quarter average fare was also down from $262 in the second quarter of 2020, which was the previous low.

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For domestic flights departing from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the average airfare in the third quarter of 2020 was $250.26, down from $362.13 a year earlier, according to the department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The drop in airfare came as airlines struggled to attract passengers. The number of passengers was down about 68% in the third quarter compared with the same period a year ago. Data from Transportation Security Administration checkpoints show that passenger counts at airports are still down more than 60% on many days.

Airlines have struggled throughout the pandemic, but a second round of federal stimulus grants and loans should help. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines got a $1.4 billion installment last Friday. That’s part of $2.9 billion in payroll support payments Delta is due to receive from the U.S. Treasury Department this quarter, in exchange for 2.1 million shares of Delta stock.

The DOT’s average fares are based on round-trip itineraries, but the data also include one-way tickets if no return fare is purchased. About 55% of the fares were for round trips.