What It Means For Passengers

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The global aviation industry is expected to experience a significant increase in passenger traffic in 2024, according to the International Air Transport Association. This is good news for the airlines, though passengers may find that flights are even more full than they were this year.

200 Million More Passengers Than Pre-Pandemic

The IATA predicts that the number of passengers traveling by air will reach 4.7 billion in 2024, a jump from the 4.5 billion passengers who traveled in 2019. This increase is driven by changing travel habits. IATA survey data shows that one-third of the respondents say they are traveling more than they did before the pandemic, while about half say their travel is the same. Just 18% say they are traveling less.

Looking ahead, the survey respondents paint an even rosier picture: 44% say that they will travel more in the next 12 months than in the previous 12 months. A mere 7% say they will travel less.

Airline Profits To Take Off

More people flying is good news for airlines. The IATA says passenger revenues are expected to reach $717 billion in 2024, up 12% from $642 billion in 2023. They predict that passenger yields, a measure of revenue per passenger-mile, will be up by 1.8% over 2023.

The revenue jump will drive a better bottom line. The IATA predicts airline industry operating profits will hit $49.3 billion in 2024, a big jump from 2023’s $40.7 billion.

More Full Airplanes

Airlines love to fly aircraft that are 100% full of paying passengers. The passengers themselves may not enjoy full flights quite as much. In 2023, almost every flight I boarded was preceded by the gate agent announcing, “We’re expecting a completely full flight today,” and warning passengers about carry-on rules and boarding protocols.

Despite new aircraft deliveries, 2024 won’t provide relief for passengers hoping for a little extra space. The IATA says the load factor will be 82.6% in 2024, a slight increase from 82% in 2023.

What Could Go Wrong?

The IATA points out a number of factors that could cause their predictions to be too optimistic. Global economic uncertainty is one. High interest rates could reduce economic activity. Slow growth, high youth unemployment and volatile real estate markets could affect China’s economic recovery. Both business and leisure travel could be affected by economic headwinds.

The airlines have largely worked around the armed conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. An escalation in either area would almost certainly be negative for airline revenues. Should one or both conflicts be resolved peacefully, though, airlines might see higher demand and lower fuel costs.

Book Early And Often

If the status quo continues into 2024—no economic upheavals or escalated military conflicts—2024 will be a good year for airlines globally. Passengers expect to fly more, and while airlines are adding capacity, both equipment and crew staffing can’t be scaled overnight.

More flights booked to capacity will mean fewer last-minute discounts, so waiting for price drops may be less productive in 2024 than in the past.

On the plus side, healthy and profitable airlines are better for passenger experience than financially struggling ones. A solid bottom line could enable investments in equipment, amenities and other areas that benefit customers—if management decides that’s important.

Safe travels!

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