Even with the average price of airline tickets rising to keep pace with fuel costs, summer air travel is expected to trend upward across the country and in Northwest Montana.
Through the first four months of this year, there have been increases in both arrivals and departures at Glacier Park International Airport. Departures were up 5.5 percent through April compared to last year and arrivals were up 5.7 percent, according to official airport activity statistics.
The biggest spike came in March, when departures at the airport rose 8.9 percent and arrivals increased by 9 percent from the previous year. There were 12,990 departures in March of this year and 11,926 in 2010. Arrivals jumped from 10,895 to 11,878.
Airport Director Cindi Martin said the increases mirror national trends.
“I cannot pinpoint any one factor as the reason for the increase,” she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation, domestic airfares rose 5.2 percent from an average of $320 in the fourth quarter of 2009 to $337 in the fourth quarter of 2010.
A more recent report states that the average prices of an airline ticket, including baggage and other fees, was 14 percent higher in March than in the same month a year ago. It is said to be the largest 12-month increase in years.
But people are still traveling more frequently than last year, though at a slower rate than before the recession. The Air Transport Association estimates that U.S. airlines will carry a total of 206.2 million passengers from June to August, a 1.5 percent increase from last summer. More passengers are expected on both domestic and international flights.
“It is encouraging that more people will be flying this summer, despite higher energy prices taxing the entire economy,” ATA President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement. “The trends are pointing in the right direction.”
Last summer saw 203.1 million airline passengers in the U.S., according to the ATA, and the summer before there were 200.3 million. That was down significantly from the 2008 total of 210.2 and the 2007 total of 217.6 passengers, which was an all-time high.
Yet despite the decline in overall passengers from 2007, there are more Americans expected to fly overseas this summer than four years ago, and possibly more than ever before. If the ATA’s prediction of 26.3 million Americans traveling on international flights comes true, it will be a record.
Martin said early bookings for the peak traveling periods are “strong” at Glacier Park International Airport.
“Summer passenger traffic is anticipated to trend up,” she said.
Last August, Glacier Park International Airport was closed 12 days to resurface the main runway, which was listed as the top infrastructure project in the state by the Federal Aviation Administration. There are no closures scheduled this summer, though Martin said there will be some construction at the airport, including the rehabilitation of Taxiway B beginning later in the summer.
Also, crews are improving an airport entrance road, a project that involves installing a traffic signal at U.S. Highway 2. Martin said passengers are encouraged to arrive at least two hours before their flight.
“There are no flight interruptions or runway closures with this project,” Martin said.
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