Airline passengers crowd the departure level of LAX on Thanksgiving getaway day, Nov. 25, 2015. The average domestic airfare in the U.S. has dropped 8.5% in 2016, compared to 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Facing harsh criticism over several recent scandals, the nation’s major airlines can now point to airfares that have dropped to the lowest level since the recession.
The average domestic airfare for all of 2016 was $349, down 8.5% from the average of $382 in 2015, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
When adjusted for inflation, the $349 fare is the lowest since 2009, when the average fare was $347, according to the federal agency, which calculates the average of all domestic fares paid, including round-trip and one-way tickets.
Last month, the agency also reported that U.S. airlines carried an all-time high number of passengers in 2016 – 823 million, surpassing the previous high of 798 million, reached in 2015.
Airline industry officials attribute the drop in airfares to competition and lower fuel prices.
“As always, competition drives pricing and competition is alive and well as evidenced by the fact that inflation-adjusted airfares have fallen 26% since 2000,” said Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s carriers.
But in the last year alone, jet fuel prices have dropped nearly 26% to $1.51 a gallon, according to data from S&P Global Platts.
The positive airfare news comes as United Airlines tries to overcome widespread criticism over an incident two weeks ago when a passenger was dragged from his seat. The Chicago-based carrier is reviewing how it handles oversold flights.
American Airlines has also come under scrutiny because of a more recent incident, also caught on video, showing a male flight attendant and a male passenger nearly coming to blows. The passenger was defending a female passenger who was crying because the flight attendant had grabbed her stroller, which nearly hit one of her children.
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