Major US airlines are eyeing the potential for higher airfares in 2017 after a boost in post-election corporate travel emerged as a bright spot in the fourth quarter. On Friday, American Airlines became the latest carrier to point to an uptick in business travel after the US presidential election, with particular strength in the financial, industrial and entertainment sectors.
That helped American score higher on a closely-watched industry benchmark for revenue per available seat mile for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2014. But American, like rivals United Continental and Delta Air Lines, signalled it sees challenges to profitability this year due to higher fuel and employee costs as it renegotiates labour contracts struck during the leaner 2006-2008 period. In the fourth quarter, American’s labour costs rose 17.4 per cent to $2.8 billion.
Carriers are hoping to turn to consumers for help in offsetting these costs. United Continental president Scott Kirby said the pricing environment was “improving.” “It felt to me like there was an inflection point after the election,” he told analysts on a conference call earlier this month. “Business demand got stronger virtually across the board.” “You combine that with a world where fuel prices are going up, and I think a lot of airlines then start raising fares.” Delta Air Lines president Glen Hauenstein said customers in many business segments are in a different place compared with a couple of years ago.
“In this part of the economic cycle, with consumer confidence high, with consumers flush with cash, they are willing to pay for more frills,” said Hauenstein, adding Delta could cut back “if fares become more relevant to customers.” Talk of lifting fares comes as both American and United move ahead with new “Basic Economy” services, essentially a bare-bones service.—Agencies