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Summer air travel set to break record, with 222 million expected to fly

Brace yourself for crowded airports and full planes this summer, as air travel is expected to hit a record high, according to a report released Monday.

About 222 million passengers will take to the skies between June 1 and Aug. 31, up 4.5 percent over last year and beating the 2007 record of about 218 million, said Airlines for America, the industry's trade group. That includes a record 31 million travelers on international flights.


"The continued rise in U.S. consumer sentiment and employment is leading to more people traveling more often," said John Heimlich, A4A chief economist.

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport experienced increased passenger traffic through the first three months of 2015, spokesman Jonathan Dean said.

Dean said a major capital program underway at the airport will provide added capacity, including a $125 million project for a new security checkpoint and gates that could be used for domestic and international service.

Airlines, in response to growing demand, are expected to add 4.6 percent more seats, or 126,000 per day. Those added seats are mostly the result of airlines' flying larger planes and packing extra rows into existing jets.

Despite the crowds, tighter seats and the continuation of airline fees that consumers say they dislike, a few recent surveys suggest airlines are doing a better job overall.

A J.D. Power report last week suggested airlines are moving beyond providing just transportation to becoming more of a hospitality and services business. Overall passenger satisfaction with major North American airlines increased to 717 on its index, up from 712 last year.

Drivers of the increase were satisfaction with flight crew, in-flight services, and costs and fees. The American Customer Satisfaction Index last month showed customers were more satisfied with airlines than they've been in 20 years.

However, airlines are usually put to the test in the summer, the busiest travel time of the year with 13 of the 15 busiest air travel days falling during summer months. And summer weather can stress an airline's operations. While airlines can plan days in advance for blizzards, it is hard to know exactly when a thunderstorm will roll through an airport, shutting down all baggage handling and flights.

The airline group said U.S. airlines are prepared to accommodate the increased travel demand, including by boosting staffing.

Adding extra seats has given pause to some Wall Street analysts who worry that airlines might have to discount fares to fill them. That hasn't happened yet, but after years of steadily rising airfares, there is a tiny bit of relief for fliers this summer — $2.01 in savings to be exact.

The average round-trip domestic ticket this summer, including taxes, now stands at $454, down less than 1 percent from last summer. Vacationers to Europe will fare better, with the average ticket down 3 percent to $1,619, about $50 less than last summer, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp.

For international flying, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan are the top nonstop destinations from the United States, Airlines for America said.

Baltimore Sun staff reporter Colin Campbell and the Associated Press contributed to this article.