The average price for a one-way domestic flight dropped to $135 last summer, its lowest level in at least two decades, according to an analysis of new federal data by Cirium, an aviation data firm.
Normally, personal travel picks up during the summer and drops in the fall. That decline is usually offset by corporate travel, but with few people boarding planes and businesses having paused most employee travel during the pandemic, airlines cut fares to fill the reduced number of seats they were still selling.
“Summer was their last best chance to generate revenue,” said Jon Jager, a Cirium analyst.
The firm came up with its estimates by analyzing Transportation Department data on airfares from July to September, which was released on Tuesday. The $135 average price for a one-way ticket last summer included taxes and fees and is the lowest quarterly average airfare, before adjusting for inflation, since at least 2000, according to Cirium. The price also represents a 32 percent decline from the $198 average in summer 2019.
Airline travel has recovered somewhat since falling more than 95 percent in April, but it remains subdued. On Monday, just over 875,000 people were screened by the Transportation Security Administration, compared with nearly 2.3 million on the same day last year. Over the past week, the agency has screened only about 37 percent as many passengers as it did a year ago.
The fare data also varies substantially by airline. At Delta Air Lines, the gross fare for a one-way ticket from New York to Los Angeles declined 21 percent, to $298, from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2020, for example. Fares on the same route over the same period fell 32 percent at United Airlines and 46 percent at American Airlines.
Over all, Delta’s airfares dropped 20 percent from the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter, while prices dropped 26 percent for Southwest Airlines, 27 percent for United and 31 percent for American.